*Trapped in a collapsed building
This is the story of 86 yr old Miss Grace Heyward*
It was Tuesday, my shopping day with Lesley, my friend and carer. She called for me at the usual time of 11.45am and we went to a restaurant to have lunch before she took me grocery shopping. The little bakehouse and café situated in Colombo Street, Sydenham was the one we chose to go to nearly every week. We always enjoyed their food and the staff were friendly.
Lesley parked her car outside the café and we entered at 12.15pm. The table nearest to the kitchen where we usually sat was occupied so Lesley took our tray over to the far side against the brick wall adjoining to the next shop. At 12.30pm we both remarked on how the café was filling up. We had not noticed it so full on other Tuesdays.
At 12.50pm after we had finished our lunch and chat, it was time for us to leave the café. I had just stood up. It takes me a minute to straighten up, get my balance and grab my walker. At that moment another major earthquake hit Christchurch causing many suburban areas and this very restaurant to shake so violently that the building began to fall apart.
“Sit down, Grace,” Lesley said, grabbing my arm. “Don’t move.”
I watched in horror as the windows smashed and the roof started falling in. Bricks, timber, iron and glass were soon a mass of rubble several feet high. People were thrown on the floor, some bleeding and severely wounded. It was then I called out to God. “Oh God! Save us.”
Bricks fell and landed on the end of our table. I put out my hand to stop a piece of iron falling on me. A woman was lying at my feet. She could not move as her leg was caught under fallen timber. Lesley stood up from her chair which was pushed hard against the brick wall. Broken debris fell around her. Then ceiling plaster fell on top of me. It split in two. There was a cloud of dust. I could not see Lesley or anything in front of me. I said to myself ‘this is it!’ I could see no way of escape. I was trapped.
Eventually the dust cloud lifted and I could see the heads of two men trying to clear the entrance. They saw Lesley and said, “We’ll get you out soon.” They had not seen me or the lady lying on the floor in front of me. All the other people had been carried out.
“Don’t worry about me!” cried Lesley. “There’s an 86 year old here and another woman on the floor. Get them out first.” At last! I was being carried out by these two brave men. It was almost an hour after the earthquake. I had to leave my walker behind with all the rubble. I was put on an office chair and wheeled down to the Spotlight car park and laid on the ground with all the other wounded. I lay there for another hour.
I suffered no injuries, but was in a state of shock. There were quite a few aftershocks while I was in the car park, which felt as if the ground was opening up from under me.
Lesley never left my side, except for going back to see if she could get her car, as the street had been petitioned off. A security man got it for her, but was not able to go into the smashed building for my walker. It was 3pm when Lesley and I left the car park. The distance to our home was usually a 10 minute drive. The roads were so bad it took us another hour. After a three hour ordeal, we were at last safely home, but were not able to have a shower because the water was off and would be for the next three or four weeks.
I know without a doubt that God did save Lesley and I. We were the only customers who came out with hardly a scratch. I fail to think how I would have managed without Lesley. She was a strength to me. The verses of scripture which came to me that week were:
‘Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved’. Romans 10:13 and Psalm 55:16. ‘As for me, I will call upon God and the Lord shall save me.’ How I thank God that once again He has protected me from danger and from a near death experience. This was indeed a miracle.
The Aftermath – Two Months Later
There have been a number of aftershocks since the second major earthquake hit Christchurch and many suburban areas on February 22nd 2011. Lesley took me back to look at what was ‘Tasty Tucker Restaurant’ in Colombo Street, Sydenham. All the rubble was cleared away, including my “Walker”. But what was of interest to us was that the glass cabinet with all the food (sandwiches, cakes, savouries etc) was still standing untouched. The glass wasn’t even broken, so there had been no food scattered over the floor. The wall on the left had two huge holes in exactly the same place I had sat at our table. Lesley sat opposite. To my knowledge, those holes were not there when we were rescued.
A niece of mine in Westport is a member of the Salvation Army. She wrote to me after reading an article in the War Cry, (the army newsletter,) which was written by one of the officers from Wellington about how he was caught in the Christchurch earthquake. This story she thought, sounded very much like Auntie Grace’s story, so she sent the magazine for me to read. This officer and his wife from Wellington were visiting her father in Christchurch. They decided to have a bit of lunch before going to the airport as they were to fly back that afternoon. They were the ones sitting at the table where we usually sat. The officer, after he had finished his lunch, decided to leave his wife and father-in-law while he went two doors along to the Christian bookshop. He had just walked into the shop when there was a loud rumble and the most terrifying earthquake. He stumbled outside and saw timber and bricks falling on cars that were parked outside and then he realized that the cafe he had just left one minute before was the heap of rubble. His first thought was to rescue his wife and her father, not knowing whether they were badly injured or even dead. After climbing over everything, he managed to get them to safety. Fortunately, they were not to badly hurt except being covered in dust and dirt. Then this brave man didn’t stop there. He went back in along with another local man and brought all the wounded out. One died instantly and two more later. I was pushed along to the car park on an office chair. This officer also went to the car park where he talked and prayed for all of us who were lying on the ground with a towel under our head’s and a blanket over our bodies. One lady was seriously injured. I learnt later that a beam came down on her. As a result she is now in the spinal unit at Burwood Hospital. I lay next to her in the car park. My heart ached for her. Her mother had been on the floor at my feet with a painful shoulder and cut on her head. I felt the need to contact the daughter after finding out her name. I wrote to her in a card. Her mother rang me. I hope and pray that one day I will get to meet them. I will also be contacting that officer.
I was in a state of shock for a few weeks. When there was an aftershock, I would jump, shake and call out. My nerves were on the edge, but I recovered and am well. I thank and praise God every day that he saved Lesley and me and brought us through this traumatic experience. This is all a true record of what happened on that unforgettable day.