It was 10.30am on February 22nd and I was in the CTV Building in central Christchurch, with my 6 month old son, visiting the osteopath and friend, Janet Meller. Janet worked at The Clinic on the 4th floor. I didn’t like the CTV building. We had been there the week before and it felt really wobbly; every time the big crane moved in the adjacent section the CTV building swayed. I even commented to Janet that the building must get a “bit of a rock on during an earthquake”. Little did I know that a giant earthquake would hit that lunchtime and the CTV building would crumble into a pile of rubble before the shaking stopped.
A couple of hours later, after an early lunch with an old friend and my baby was sleeping in his car seat as I drove home. Suddenly the steering on the car started to swerve wildly and I honestly thought one of the wheels had fallen off. In the next few seconds all I could think of was how on earth was I going to explain this to my husband. I could hear the conversation in my mind “...honestly honey, I was just driving along and the wheel fell off…” He simply wouldn’t believe me. Then I turned the corner and watched our local church collapse. It was amazing to watch, it was as if the building had just melted as the bricks crumbled and fell to the ground. I realised at once it was an earthquake. I found myself driving home along the edge of the Heathcote River, guiding the car over liquefaction as it was happening.
Having come through the September earthquake relatively unscathed I was not prepared for what greeted me when I got home to our house on the Hill. I opened my front door and saw total devastation. Everything we owned seemed to be on the floor, lying broken and smashed. My husband called to see if we were OK and I told him to come home because the house was wrecked. I will always remember his three word reply “Are you sure?”. When he got home he saw the awful destruction for himself.
We stayed with the neighbours that night. Their house was in a similar state to ours but we decided there was safely in numbers. We didn’t want to be alone. Our family of three slept in a double bed in their spare room. It is a night I will remember forever, much worse than September. Aftershocks relentlessly rolled in every few minutes. In the silence of the city without power we could hear each one coming; a deep rumble followed by the shaking less than a second later. We had very little sleep.
The next morning me and my baby left my husband behind and bolted my parents’ home, the endless aftershocks were too much for me. We had almost a full tank of gas, which was good and petrol was running low since everybody was trying to leave the city at once. I arrived to find my sister and her family had done the same thing. It made for a very full house and that night I shared a single bed with my baby. It was at my parents, that I saw the TV for the first time since the quake and I realised the devastation in the city and the saw the pile of rubble that had been the CTV Building.
But, I was very unhappy without my husband. The following day I returned to the city to pick him up and we headed out together, as a family, to stay with friends in Leeston. Over the next few weeks we moved around from Leeston to Golden Bay, then Motueka and back to Leeston. Finally 5 weeks later an engineering report confirmed our home on the hill was structurally sound and safe to live in. We headed home to a still shaking Christchurch.
The hardest thing to come to terms with has been that I unknowingly took my baby into danger. I knew as I stood in the CTV building that it wasn’t right. It was unusually wobbly, but I did nothing about it. I trusted the experts and assumed that they would have closed the building if it was unsafe. I do wonder, if I had said something to the right people, would it have changed anything? So many people died that day, many of them in the building I had been in that morning. I still struggle with the thought that had the earthquake struck earlier that morning…