As the grey dust settled

22:04, Feb 21 2013

I would not be living in Palmerston North right now if it were not for February 22, 2011.

It was a grey day.

I was 20 years old, flatting in Riccarton, studying at UC.  I needed to go into town.  My car's stereo had been burgled a few weeks before and I was going to check out replacements.

I was lazy. On an essentially non-descript overcast day I sat in my flat lounge on a couch directly below a two-tonne chimney, watching a non-descript Champions League replay.

The hours ticked by. My flatmate tapped away on his laptop slowly beside me. It was quiet. It was grey.

The game was the last thing I would watch on that TV.


The ground erupted. The TV smashed to the ground. My mind drifted to the chimney above me. I stumbled quickly to the doorway. My flatmate got there first. I pushed him out.

You learn some weird things about yourself when you know your life is in danger and that is something that will always stick with me.

Remarkably the chimney stayed up. My flatmate found another doorway and we held on as glass smashed around us.

As the grey dust settled, the car alarms began to wail. The sirens wailed. Our neighbour through the wall wailed.

Nothing else was normal but for some reason the power stayed on. So we invited the neighbourhood around. People we had never met before, bonding as we waited for news.

Slowly, with ashen faces, we realised the full horror.

We hooked up one of our computer monitors to our Sky connection and, bizarrely, we had television. It was crystal clear coverage, perfect apart from one detail. No matter what we did, we could not get it in colour.

So we sat through the aftershocks, some of us strangers, some friends, in a small lounge with a tiny TV; watching grey people being pulled out of grey rubble by grey-haired rescuers.

The fact that it was black and white made it hit home much harder. We were watching history happen.

In the months to come, colour slowly came back.  Shovelling grey sludge away, we sat around drinking, playing cards, avoiding the chimney, knocking around a tennis ball on cracked courts.

Life in Christchurch wasn't as colourful as before, but it was life and we made the best of it.

Eventually, the real aftershocks hit for me. UC couldn't find a replacement lecturer willing to come to Christchurch to teach my course. Fair enough too. I wouldn't have wanted to move there either.

It meant I had nowhere to go. I was forced north. And now I'm here - Palmerston North.

Living in Manawatu was never on my radar until February 22, 2011. But I like it. It is oh so green.

Manawatu Standard