– Sydenham, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

I live in a second story flat in Sydenham. Like almost everyone, when the September earthquake hit I was asleep in bed. I remember waking to the distinctive sound of the rumble before the earthquake hit the surface.

For a second I sat bolt up right in bed but once I saw how violently the things around me were beginning to be shaken and knocked over I rushed to get out of bed and make my way to the safety of my bedroom doorway. Unfortunately whilst on my way to the doorway I got hit by my falling television (an older, heavier, box style 21’ inch TV) which landed against me, hitting my elbow and forearm. The force of the television pinning me to my bed for a number of seconds before I found the strength to push the television off of me which then landed on my foot before rolling to the floor and landing on my deodorant can (which was once a round can and is now an almost oblong shape.)

After my wrestle with my television I made it to the doorway where I saw the rest of my belongings around my flat being thrown around. I then noticed all of my blinds being pushed open by the force of the earthquake, within seconds from that, which felt like minutes, the shaking stopped.

To my horror, as I was looking out of my second story window through the now open blinds, at that second I saw what was like a ripple affect across south Christchurch as the power cut out. It was such a surreal moment, made worse by the airy sound of alarms whaling in the distance which seemed to immediately follow the power cut.

The months and weeks following the September earthquake were like torture for most of us here in Christchurch. The first few days were full of flashbacks and fear produced by the memories of our own experiences and made worse with every aftershock which it seemed only hit when we began to feel a tiny bit comfortable.

The days and weeks following the September earthquake were made harder for me as I discovered that the force of the earthquake had pushed my night store heater to its limit, left hanging to the wall by one bolt and only one side of the bracket.

My night store heater eventually wore away with the aftershocks being quite forceful. Eventually it fell over completely, landing with an almighty thud. Unfortunately for me the thud was made worse as I was not quick enough to react and it landed on my foot, breaking my big toe, damaging the nerves and causing severe bruising to my foot not too mention trapping me for nearly an hour as I struggled to free my foot from under the weight of the night store.

For nearly nine weeks I was forced to rely on the use of crutches and other people’s generosity to get through and undertake the general day-to-day tasks until I could eventually begin to weight bare as the swelling slowly went down enough to be able to wear shoes.

In late November I was incredibly thankful to have received a Red Cross Grant to cover medical bills that I incurred following my foot injury. I am still to this day ever so great full to have received that financial support as well as the support of my amazing neighbours and lovely friends.

On February 22nd I went about my day-to-day business as usual. We’d been living through aftershocks here for nearly six months, I guess it became apart of our day-to-day lives here in Christchurch. They didn’t really seem to faze me as much as they had, but every now and then I’d have a bit of a panic attack when a bigger one raised its presence.

I guess over the last few months of these shocks sleep become a secondary for me (and no doubt for many others here,) for those months I was too scared to go to sleep in complete darkness. It sounds stupid now, but I figured that if I kept a light on and an aftershock hit I’d be able to see my way to the door frame or see if anything was falling towards me. It worked for a while but gradually as my flash backs diminished my fear of the darkness did too. I guess I got more ‘comfortable’ with them.

That’s pretty much what happened on February 22nd, at first I just thought “Oh crap that’s a bigger one” but it got more and more violent and threw both my twin brother and I from side to side as we tried to grab on to one-another while my second story flat shook and swayed violently and all of my things flew absolutely everywhere.

Being upstairs often meant for me that even the mildest aftershocks made things fall so when the 6.3 quake hit on February 22nd, just like in September; my flat was absolutely trashed. My DVD’s and CD’s flew all over the ground when both the racks fell over. My book shelf tipped forward, picture frames came off the wall. My 29inch TV, DVD player, surround sound unit and play station (as well as my TV in my bedroom) all tipped over completely. My filing cabinet, all of my kitchen draws and pantry flew open. Glasses also came off the bench in the kitchen and smashed all over the floor.

That was just inside, outside my heat pump fan unit out on my balcony moved forward by almost over a meter (stretching all of the pipes and wires to their limits) the fan unit moving also moved and tipped the glass coffee table that I have out on the balcony next to a wooden outdoor chair which also moved from its place.

Immediately after the February quake I wanted to get outside and down stairs onto more solid ground (as I found the building swaying very difficult) but I found that all of my neighbours had the same idea. Unfortunately later on as my nerves were a little more settled I thought I’d go back up to my flat but as I got nearly all the way up the steps another strong aftershock hit, rattling me once more. I stood there frozen, eventually I noticed my twin brother had gone ahead and was starting to tidy up. I didn’t know where to start so I decided to start on the kitchen. My twin brother and I almost completely tidied it up the kitchen until another large aftershock hit, tipping the fridge almost on top of me, if my twin brother hadn’t have helped me push it away I could have had yet more injuries.

After that I decided it wasn’t worth tidying up anything else so I went round the house turning all the power off at the wall because a lot of my electrical appliances were either broken or tipped over so I didn’t want anything else to go wrong when the power eventually came back on.

My twin brother and I then decided to go and check on family near by but as we were leaving I couldn’t get my door closed (It was left open when the earthquake hit) it took both my twin brother and I to literally pull the door closed. It appeared the door frame had moved and the floor had lifted, lifting the carpet also. I didn’t think much of it at the time but when I came back to my flat I couldn’t even get the door open, (not on my own) that’s when the reality of it hit me. That night I had no real option other than to stay with my parents out in the country, (west of Christchurch in Prebbleton) until I could get hold of my landlord about the door at my flat.

With little sleep and the reality of my neighbours and friends having no water in the city I decided I would make use of being out in Prebbleton with well-water so I filled up three dozen bottles with the fresh well-water and took them to my neighbours houses and a near by Retirement Village. While I was in the area I decided to check my flat for any further casualties from the continuing aftershocks and found it was again a huge struggle to open my door but I eventually got in there and shoved the door almost closed without thinking and therefore became temporarily stuck in there as I struggled to open the door on my way out.

I didn’t get to go back home after that until the 3rd of March because all of the builders around the city were jam-packed with all the other earthquake damage around the city and even then it was a temporary fix where they pulled up the carpet so I could open and close the door without anything catching on it.

I was so glad to be home but a few weeks later I found that along with my heat-pump not working, my hot water cylinder was leaking so I had to get a plumber out and they replaced the pipes. Two days after these repairs my hot water cylinder over heated and over flowed onto the roof, it was soon found that the thermostat had blown so I then got a new thermostat fitted but was told it was a temporary fix until they would order the proper one for it.

In May I was still having a lot of trouble with my hot water cylinder not heating properly and seemingly heating the water 24-7 (using heaps of power!!) because it couldn’t get to the correct temperature. By early June I had had the plumber and the electrician out numerous times but had still not got the heat-pump checked so I asked my landlord to get onto it for me.

At that stage things seemed to be settling down a bit with the aftershocks when seemingly suddenly on June 13th big shocks hit us once more, these shocks made my TV fall over once more, this time smashing it, along with my oil heater which got bent out of shape and cracked open along with my iron that fell out of the cupboard and broke it. Again my heat-pump fan unit moved significantly and this time around we had no water or sewage and power outages over the following days.

Thinking about how much my life has changed in the last 11 months is overwhelmingly astonishing. How much in my day-to-day life now evolves around where I am, what’s around me, where I park my car, what I have with me, who is around, where emergency exits are, asking myself if there’re torches around etc. I actually now barely remember what life was like pre-September 2010.

You know, hearing about the Haiti earthquake last year and thinking that I didn’t have any idea what that must have been like, I couldn’t ever imagine living through something like that until now where we’ve lived through several major earthquakes now. It really is life changing.

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