– Riccarton, Canterbury, New Zealand

It was Tuesday – the middle of my working week, only I wasn’t at work that day. My daughter had been in an accident the previous day, and was at home on crutches.

I decided to go get some KFC for lunch, to cheer her up. Leaving her on the couch with my brother, I hopped in my car and drove through the back streets of Riccarton.

I remember thinking to myself – “It’s payday, I need to get some groceries, and register my car. I’ll do that when hubby gets home.” Yeah Right. Three minutes later, my everyday drive down the road, turned into the scariest moment of my life.

I was driving west to east at 12:51. Suddenly, the steering of my 94 Toyota began to veer to the left, then the right. “Damn, have I blown a steering rod?” Was my first thought, as I fought to keep control. Then I realised that the buildings around me were shaking violently. I hit the brakes, and continued to fight the steering wheel, as a parked grey Nissan loomed closer, it’s owner holding onto the boot spoiler, desparate to stay upright. My car veered towards the Nissan, and, fighting panic, I pressed the brakes as hard as I could, and threw the steering wheel towards the centre-line. The car pulled to a stop within inches of the Nissan. I put the car in ‘Park’, and cut the engine. The shaking hadn’t stopped though, and I felt queasy from motion sickness, panic and fear. Then, it stopped, as suddenly as it had begun.

I climbed out of the car. For a few seconds, an eerie silence hung over the street. “Are you OK?” I asked the Nissan lady. “I’m OK. You,” “I’m OK.” I got back into my car, and pulled a fast U-turn. What followed was the longest 5 minute drive home I’ve ever had. Were my kids OK? Two of them were at school, were the schools trashed? Is my brother alright? God, where was my husband? I stopped several times to check on the dazed, frightened people who stumbled out of their homes as I passed. When I finally arrived home, I ran into my brother’s arms. The fear came out as I sobbed on his shoulder.

It wasn’t until nearly three hours later, once hubby came home, and we got our kids home safe, that we turned on the TV and saw the devastation in the central city. Amongst those scared, wounded people were my colleagues and friends. I worked in a multi-storied building in town. I was supposed to be there on February 22. I wasn’t. I was spared, and to this day, I am still of two minds about that. On the one hand, I am grateful to still be alive, and able to be here for my family. On the other – well, I hear the stories from my colleagues about that day (Thank God, they are all OK) and I feel guilty, because I wasn’t there. Survivors guilt. MY Family is safe, MY House is still standing, I am alive. My heart continues to be wrenched for those who were not so lucky.

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