My family and I moved to New Zealand in 2006 and made Christchurch our home. Since that time, I’ve seen earthquakes, tornados, floods and other natural disasters batter the North Island as well as parts of the South Island. Like many other people, I thought Christchurch was a safe haven. At 4:35 am on Saturday 4th September 2010, that belief was shattered.
I awoke to a loud banging and the sensation that my bed was moving. My husband was standing up and shouted at me to get downstairs. I scrambled out of bed only to find I couldn’t take a single step. The floor was heaving and rocking beneath me and I hung onto the side of the bed. It felt as though the house was going to split in two.
When it subsided somewhat, my husband and I called the children to follow us downstairs. With alarms shrieking next door and steps rolling beneath us, we managed to get to our living room. We turned the lights on and stared at each other, white-faced and shocked. Things had fallen over, cupboards had been flung open, books and bottles had fallen from shelves. Then another tremor hit and the lights went out.
After waiting a half hour, we decided the worst was over and headed back to bed. I didn’t stay there long, however. Desperate to hear some news, I went and sat in our car and listened to the 6am radio broadcast. Then I told my husband I was going to head into the city. I guessed it would be cordoned off at some stage and wanted to see the damage for myself.
Armed with camera, I drove and walked around the city centre for an hour. Frequent aftershocks shook the area as I surveyed the devastation. Many of the century-old red brick buildings had crumbled, with some structures losing their entire facade. A corner restaurant on the first floor had lost both exterior walls but the tables and chairs remained in position. Police and emergency workers were everywhere and bulldozers had already started clearing some areas.
Christchurch central normally buzzes on a Saturday morning. Trams runs, buses rumble in and out of the bus exchange and people socialize at dozens of quaint coffee shops. On this Saturday, there was just an eerie calm. Few cars were around, no buses, no stores were open, just this terrible scene of destruction. It was intensely emotional, knowing the skyline of our city had been irrevocably changed.