– Intersection of Colombo Street and Gloucester St, Christchurch Central

My now husband and I were doing a few errands, and planned to go to town for lunch at our usual ‘cheap but yummy’ eatery Osaka. That weekend I had a friends dress up, hens night to attend so I planned to scourer the op shop situated in the old Wizards building, on Gloucester St for my 80’s themed get up. There was also a topiary exhibit on in the square that we were going to check out, and I had mentioned to my husband that I hadn’t been in the Cathedral’s tower since I was a girl, and maybe we could climb that too. All in all a pretty normal outing for us in town, and we hummed and harred about what to do first. In the end lunch won.

We found a car park on Colombo St near Gloucester, opposite the Kiwibank building. I posted a letter in the post box outside the Kiwibank and we walked to Osaka in Gloucester Arcade. We had just started to tuck into our meal when the quake struck at 12.51pm. I immediately noticed the young family opposite us, they were just sitting as though they’d never experienced an earthquake. I’m pretty sure I was the first in the restaurant to get under a table, everyone else quickly followed suit. Except for the chef who I could hear frantically doing stuff in the kitchen while the oil in the vats violently sloshed about. I thought he was going to get severely burnt by the hot fat.

Food flew off the tables, glass broke and the lighting in the arcade crashed to the ground. Finally it came to a stop. We picked ourselves up from the ground and sat back at our table. My husband looked confused as he searched for his bowl of food, and was planning on continuing to eat. I think our brains were still catching up with what had just happened. The chef ushered us out of the restaurant and we were the last to leave. We helped a little girl over the broken glass that blocked the path because in the panic, her family had forgotten her for a second. I left the restaurant thinking the earthquake didn’t feel anywhere near as bad as the September quake.

We approached the automatic doors at the end of the arcade opening on to Gloucester St. When they opened there were two girls covered in white dust, walking past consoling each other. Instantly I knew this was much worse than September, I stated to my husband ‘hundreds of people might have died’. As we stood on Gloucester St looking around adrenaline kicked in. There were buildings down all around, and people in shock and panicking. We went to our car and there was a lady pacing back and forth saying ‘there’s someone there, there’s someone over there’. We looked towards the collapsed Kiwibank building and saw an arm, a leg and part of a body from under a tonne sized masonry block. It was very clear that that person couldn’t have made it. I never felt my safety was so in danger as I did at that moment.

My husband and I dealt with the situation very differently from each other. He seemed to get bravado and I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Instantaneously I decided to leave our car behind when I saw Colombo St was blocked by the Kiwibank building. A road block was also forming by cars trying to turn into the blockage. Latimer Square was the safest place that came to mind so we started to make our way there. We barely got to the other side of the lights at the Colombo, Gloucester intersection when we saw an old boy in a pinstripe suit walking in a daze, bleeding heavily from the bridge of his nose. I asked if he was ok. He said yes and asked if it looked bad. My husband piped up and said it’s not too bad. I told him it was and to take the waiting taxi that was still in the stand to the hospital, just to be safe. We could see the cartilage. He didn’t take the taxi and kept stumbling about.

We turned and noticed the fallen Cathedral, dust still settling. More panic and confusion. We started down Worcester to Latimer Square and when we smelt gas, we ran. When we got to Latimer Square there was smoke that steadily blanketed the space. We sat on the ground because it was thick and heavy in the air. We heard talk of the CTV building being down. I saw a friend who works for IRD and he confirmed the CTV building had collapsed. We must’ve sat in that park for 2 hours and at some stage the big after shock had happened. I imagined the ground opening up and swallowing me. The police started telling people to clear out and go out to the suburbs. While sitting there I had wished I had a tent and sleeping bag to stay the night because I felt that was as safe as I was going to be.

We left the park and headed for home. We passed white sheets with blood seeping through them, I realized they were covering bodies that must have been recovered from the CTV site…

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