I had left my wife at the Botanical Gardens in the city, aiming to see her at home later, but due to some regular reminders I chose to stop in town and have my haircut before returning home. A decision that was to change my view on life forever.
After a quick search around I found a barbers on the Manchester Street/Lichfield St junction, opposite my favourite coffee shop (Java). I’d sat down, begun the chitchat with the barber and the electric razor had started to do its work on the back of my head when the quake hit.
The lights immediately went out, the back room where the cuts took place in almost complete darkness and the barber and I dived to the floor, mirrors and pictures began to fall around us. Seconds later the rumble stopped so we jumped up and moved to the front section of the shop, another aftershock so again we dropped to the floor. I could now see out of the front of the shop and could see bricks falling, a dust cloud and half of the shops canopy blocking the entrance, alongside the broken window. The aftershock stopped and we all ran out of the building (I must have at some point grabbed my jacket and took off the “cloak” the barber puts on you).
Outside was staggering to see, in all directions there were collapsed buildings, dust clouds, huge piles of rubble, multiple building and car alarms sounding, zombie like people stood with looks of amazement, and screams from trapped people… It took a few seconds to take all this in and then as my mind cleared I could see people were already climbing onto the rubble to begin to rescue people, so I dropped my jacket and ran across to help them.
It was amazing to see so many people helping and trying to move rubble. They had reacted so quickly to the shake – truly staggering to see.
I moved along Manchester Street towards Rubens Blades on the corner from shop front to shop front shouting through the rubble and listening to hear if anyone was inside. I helped some girls out of one building who were unhurt but cowering inside. The next building I could hear some screams but with so many noises could not be sure where they were coming from.
I jumped off the rubble and ran around to the end of the buildings (I suppose to see if there was a way in to the screaming voices, but I can’t remember). The canopy above Rubens Blades on the corner was still holding up though covered with debris and with the windows broken I could get into the building to see if the screams were from inside. On searching I found them, a trapped brother/sister both screaming in pain and shock. I told them that help was on the way, and that there were many people outside trying to help. I ran back to the broken window to shout out that there were two injured inside and also that people knew I was there too.
Moving back to the couple I asked them what was hurting, their names etc and if anyone else was working in the shop, they looked at me confused. They had actually been walking on the pavement outside when the quake hit and the collapsed canopy had pushed them through the window, into the hairdressers and then the canopy (plus the masonry) had then landed on their legs. The sister had her ankle trapped under the canopy but you could only see the brother’s top half, the remainder crushed under the debris. I went to the window and back again, to make sure people knew that we were in there. Also quickly searched the other rooms and had a big shock to find a room with heads all over the floor! A room of mannequin heads for hairdressing training was not what I was expecting! Eventually there were some medics on the scene so I moved back outside.
The next 30-60 mins are all a bit blurred but I can remember breaking into a car to help the police gain access to the car jack in the boot, directing people away from the area, searching vans for helmets for the police/medics who were inside buildings, using wire-cutters to take down shelving that was in the way of evacuations, spotting for the people still inside the half demolished building, watching the dead (mother and daughter I think?) being pulled from the rubble, being told by the police not to worry about checking one fallen building “leave it to the dogs to check” they said, helping to get the trapped sister into a police car and trying to calm her down… All a bit of a blur really – so much going on.
At some point I decided that with so many police, medics etc there that I was now in the way rather than helping so I began to make my way home and to locate my wife and try to take in everything that had happened.
A BBQ and bottle of wine in the garden on the evening of Feb 22 was the most surreal meal I have ever had – had the quake really happened…?
What an amazing day – so many people helping in so many different ways.