– Purau, Canterbury, New Zealand

This is a transcript of an interview with Louise Swatton conducted four weeks after the 4 September 2010 earthquake .

I live in Purau in an old residential block built in 1880. A villa bungalow built by the Gardener family when they split their estate.

In the night of the earthquake we had to check on the cows as they were calving and a cold southerly storm came through. I had to go out around midnight to try and sort a cow and her newborn calf out, with the torch, so that’s why the torch was not next to my bed, but I left it in the kitchen when I came in.

When the earthquake happened I had been up several times already because of the cows, but I was fast asleep. My husband and I got up and stood under the door frame and held hands and it shook a lot and then suddenly I thought of my daughter, who was at the West Coast. And then I spent the rest of the time praying “keep her safe! keep her safe!”, which I wasn’t really thinking I would.

As soon as the quake had finished I phoned my daughter who was on a geology trip on the other side of the fault, but of course I thought the earthquake came from the big Alpine Fault and I thought if we are shaking this much… they were at a field work station just outside of Westport. She had gone there studying geology on the Alpine Fault! But she was fine, in fact they were really cross because it was the last day of their field work trip and they had all these eminent geologists… and they’d missed it!! They were furious! .

Then I rang my mother who lives in a granny flat and then I went to the cows and checked their field shelter was OK.

It was an East-West shake, so everything on the West shelf in the kitchen came down.

I have a trifle bowl that survived since Victorian time, it survived my husband’s aunt who was blind, a maiden aunt who looked after it, it survived the blitz when the house was blown apart, and now it survived the earthquake, this beautiful cut-glass trifle bowl. But I haven’t put it back up yet.

I felt the aftershocks were like a home invasion – you close your curtains and you lock your door when you go to bed at night and they enter into your house without an invite, not a very nice visitor, you’ve got no right of reply, there is no one to moan at, no one to shout at, and this darn thing just comes on in.

I work as a community nurse, so on the Monday morning I came and said “Look we need to check on the ederly, otherwise the GP will need to spend 2 hours with each patient, because people need to talk.’

And it was lovely, I phoned Margaret and she said “Let’s get on and do it.” and it was superb, it made such a difference knowing that Timebank were contacting all the elderly who needed time, I know that WINZ were going to contact those that live by themselves, but you need somebody personal, somebody who lives in Lyttelton. And there was somewhere for them to have a cup of tea [in the Lyttelton Info Centre] , because it’s really frightening.

On Monday everyone that came in wanted to talk, it was unusual, but copable. On the Tuesday I got John and Rose to put up tape on all the windows, because I knew the aftershocks would carry on for a good year and at that stage everyone was talking about a ‘6’, I know the 6 is still in the background, way in the background, but I know it is still possible.

But I think the biggest change for us [at the Lytteton health centre] was Wednesday. Wendy and I had just got into the building at 10 to 8 and we were talking about… on Tuesday someone had come in and really panicked everyone with a story that there was going to be a 6 in the next hour and a half… that caused so much emotional damage to some of the people.
But on Wednesday the building really shook, we lost power and we couldn’t get doctors through – in fact I was telling some of the doctors not to come, because we didn’t know what was going to happen.

I cope if I am organising things – I am probably quite bossy. Like most nurses!

Now, 4 weeks after the quake, we still have huge numbers of people coming through affected by the eathquakes. Elderly people who won’t go to bed – lots of them will go to bed after 1 or 2 o’clock because they think that’s the busiest time for earthquakes. And I am very much an evidence-based type of person so I have been using this website to show people how the quakes have changed, how few there are now compared to before. I printed it out and for some people that made a lot of difference that they could see. I am lucky that I can ask my daughter who can ask Mark Quigley who can answer questions. My daughter was really miffed and cross because she was meant to have him as her lecturer for this part of the semester, but he is too busy now with other things!

I learned not to leave my batteries for the radio and torch lying around to get rusty. I don’t think anyone of us expected this number of aftershocks. Compared to Haiiti I really appreciate how good New Zealand is with all its earth quake planning.

This interview is one of a series of interviews carried out by Bettina Evans of Project Lyttelton . We are very grateful to Bettina and the interviewees for allowing their interview transcripts to be posted on QuakeStories.

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