– Central Library, Gloucester Street

One week after 22 February 2011
It was strange and unnerving in Christchurch Central library during the quake. I was on the ground floor and was grabbing for my trolley to hold on to but it kept slipping away. Shelves were crashing to the ground and books spewing everywhere. Everyone was bent over and flopping about. I was facing the windows and it looked suddenly different outside but I couldn’t comprehend why. People moved to the exits without panicking. A man close to me was looking for his wife who had gone to the toilets on the first floor. I wanted to go up to find her but both escalators were full of people coming down. His wife appeared. We were gathering out on the riverbank across the road and that was were the jitters set in for me.

A woman I was with was crying and distressed. Her husband was out of town and she had no way to contact him. I gave her my phone to contact her daughter. Sirens were sounding continuously. Huge windows had fallen from the building across at the corner and the river was rising rapidly as we watched. People were franticly texting family and friends. We were getting big aftershocks and the river kept rising. The old stone Provincial Chambers across the river collapsed. The riverbank was shaking. It was all new. We were realizing we still had belongings inside the library and were not going to be able to get keys and wallets and phones, and that our cars would have to be left in town. We had no idea of what was happening in the rest of the city centre. The Central Library is somewhat on the edge of the CBD.

I couldn’t remember how to use my phone properly I was so jittery. I didn’t get many texts through. I couldn’t get my daughter in the suburbs at all. Later got some of my family. My bike was locked in the stands out the front of the library and my bike-lock, bag, jackets, wallet and keys were all in my locker in a back room of the library. I started walking home knowing I didn’t even have a house key or car key with me, and hoping I had one hidden outside. Passed the new Council Buildings standing strong but with huge windows out. Passed the Arts Centre with huge damage. The museum looked OK. Now in a stream of people heading home on foot. Civilian cars sounding sirens were heading towards the hospital. A crowd of people out on the riverbank behind the hospital – many wrapped in white sheets. Over the damaged bridge by the boatsheds and out into liquefaction territory from there the whole length of Antigua Street. Wet sloppy silt that seemed to come from nowhere and was everywhere underfoot. Very surreal.

Still couldn’t make contact with my daughter. Traffic so thick along Morehouse Ave and no traffic lights working. People doing their best to direct traffic and keep it moving. Managing to avoid getting my feet too mucky. Now walking with a woman and her little dog. She had come from the city centre and her family’s jewelry store which had been damaged by the building next to it. She was walking her dog all the way home across town to check on her grandmother. Suddenly out of the liquefaction so thinking this side of town maybe unaffected. Later found out that was wrong. Still never imagining what destruction this had set off in the inner city and beyond. My house feared pretty well. Cupboard doors all open in the kitchen but nothing on the floor. Spare room messy with shelving and contents fallen over. My little street seemed safe again. My neighbour was cleaning up messes off the floor but OK. Walked several suburbs to check on my daughter who was thankfully safe. More violent shakes. Daughter very calm. News coming in from family that we were all accounted for and safe. No power, no water, no sewerage system.

This was big. But we still didn’t know how devastating it had been. My power came back on at about 8 pm and water on Sunday.

We had many powerful shocks through the night and into the morning. I sat up in a doorway close to my front door with cushions and duvet and stayed there until morning. Talked for ages with my daughter overseas who was planning to travel to Christchurch with her baby in 5 weeks time. Sat up listening to the now famous and comforting Meridian transistor with my light on not lying down to sleep until around 3 in the morning. Powerful aftershocks still coming.

It all seemed so unbelievable… and yet just the beginning.

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