– Shirley, Christchurch

Its the stuff of nightmares and potentially could necessitate a life time of counselling to overcome.

My husband Brent and I were violently shaken awake at 4.35 on the morning of Saturday 4th September 2010. Our bedroom is upstairs and the movement of the room felt like it was going to collapse at any moment. Our biggest concern was our grandchildren who were staying overnight downstairs. We both rushed to get down the stairs to them, however the stairs were moving side to side and up and down. I thought it would be best to hold onto the banister but this too was wobbling side to side and not much use. On the way down the stairs the power went out. The night light at the bottom of the stairs was now not much use to us. I could hear Ally (2) crying. She sleeps at one end of my office and all the files on the shelves and the drawers in the filing cabinet were flying out into the room. I go into her room – a faceless stranger in a dark scary world – and snatch her up, bedding and all– no time to comfort her or explain what I was doing.

Brent has gone to get Charlotte (4). She is hiding under her duvet hoping it will all go away. We rush the girls straight to our kitchen/dining room and shove them under the dining table before diving in under the table ourselves.

The main earthquake subsides but the earth continues to shake ferociously every few minutes with aftershocks. Between wiggles I retrieve our emergency box, which is kept in the bottom of the downstairs bathroom cupboard. What a relief to get out our torches and our wee battery run radio.

Because the power is out and there isn’t much in the way of moonlight, it is very dark looking outside. You feel very alone in the world as though there may not be anyone else left out there. Having the radio was so good as it told us we were not alone, where the earthquake had come from, what was happening out there in the community. Different people calling in to the radio station told their stories and updated us on what to expect next.

It seemed like a long time before daylight started to show itself. We spent the rest of the night under the table – just to be sure we are all safe and so we can all be together. The girls were great, not being upset at all. We pretended that we were “camping out, inside” with our torches and radio and duvets – all snuggled up.

When it becomes light we see all the things that have fallen off bookshelves etc, quite a mess, watching where you walk for broken crockery and glass in places.

Our cat is a bit of a burglar – she prefers to pinch her food out of the feed container in the bottom of the pantry rather than just eat it out of her dish, so we have had to put a kiddie lock – well make that a “cat lock” – on the pantry door at nights otherwise we will find her food container tipped over and spilt on the floor in the morning. In the morning light I see that the pantry doors are bulging with items that have fallen off the shelves during the night. I am grateful for the cat lock that kept it all inside until I could carefully deal with it in the light.

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