Cantabrians rudely shaken
Darfield resident Sharon Smith thought she was in a horror movie. Not far away, Di Roberts thought a train was running into the house.
Hotelier Richard Hawes, in Diamond Harbour, initially suspected a violent storm. Una Collins, 79, in Wainoni in eastern Christchurch, thought she was dreaming.
Within seconds, they and about 300,000 other reeling Cantabrians knew only too well they were in a disaster.
The earthquake, centred near Darfield, about 40 kilometres west of Christchurch, struck at 4.35am on Saturday, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale. The Haiti quake in January also measured 7.1.
The first and most devastating jolt on Saturday lasted about 30 seconds and was severe enough to set the bells ringing in Christ Church Cathedral's tower.
Several aftershocks kept Canterbury people on edge.
Most of the damage was done in that first juddering tremor. Roads cracked, water and sewerage pipes ruptured, railway lines buckled, walls toppled, chimneys fell and historic buildings fractured, causing damage already estimated at more than $2 billion.
Miraculously, no-one was killed. Two men in their 50s were seriously injured, one by a falling chimney and the other when bricks and mortar fell on his taxi in Manchester St.
Gidro, a lemur at Orana Wildlife Park, drowned in his moat as he tried to flee with his mother.
The timing of the quake probably prevented fatalities. Few people were out in the streets, even in the central city, and people were not cooking, which prevented fires breaking out. Families were able to contact each other quickly.
While lives were not lost, the quake crippled the city and some suburbs.
A modern, relatively prosperous city suddenly had curfews, a state of emergency, political leaders flying in and people clamouring for supplies in scenes reminiscent of Third World disasters.
City streets were strewn with rubble, farmers were unable to milk their cows and hospitals and medical centres dealt with a run of minor injuries.
The immediate impact was massive disruption, including widespread power outages, water supplies cut off, water contamination, sewage-disposal problems, business destruction and dangerous housing.
People were profoundly rattled.
Christchurch International Airport was closed so officials could inspect runways. The domestic terminal was briefly evacuated while cracks were inspected.
Lyttelton sustained tens of millions of dollars of damage, Lyttelton Port of Christchurch chief executive Peter Davie said.
Port roads, storage areas and walls, most of which were built on reclaimed land, had slumped and would need major repairs, he said. The container cranes stopped on Saturday but were working again yesterday.
After the quake, Christchurch looked like two cities. Some areas looked normal; others, such as the central city, looked like a bomb site.
Suburbs such as Dallington, where almost every chimney was down, New Brighton, where sludge and water ran through the streets, and Avonside, where houses listed and roads folded, were hardest hit.
The Darfield area, about 10km from the quake's epicentre, suffered harshly.
Stories emerging from the quake reflected universal shock and disbelief. What disturbed many people was the dark as they huddled in doorways wondering when the shaking would stop and whether they would survive.
Hawes thought the worst as the city council-owned, 130-year-old Godley House, which he leases with wife Michelle in Diamond Harbour, on Banks Peninsula, "wobbled like jelly".
"I thought I was going to die; I really did. We were sleeping on the first floor and I thought it was going to collapse."
A large piece of a brick wall above their bed fell away from their bed instead of on it.
Smith thought she was caught in the movie The Exorcist.
"The bed was leaping off the floor. I've never been so scared in my life," she said.
Recent Canterbury rugby signing Sonny Bill Williams was on the third floor of his central Christchurch apartment block.
"I thought the roof was going to fall in. I just stayed in my bed buzzing out in shock. It's mother nature. You can't mess with that," he said.
Collins said she jumped out of bed and was flung to the floor, where she crawled over to her husband.
"It's the most frightening thing I've experienced and I've been through quite a lot. My budgie Pippie can say `Mommie' and the little darling was calling out," she said.
Shirley resident Kevin Wall experienced the Inangahua earthquake (also 7.1) in 1968 when living in Hokitika.
"This was a hell of a lot worse," he said.
When rattling began at Viv Montgomerie's Avonside home she thought the cat was scratching at the door.
"When I got up it was like I was in a boat. It was rolling; absolutely rolling," she said.
She quickly gathered her 18-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, and partner Rick Garner and huddled in her bedroom doorway, waiting out the tremors by candlelight until dawn.
"The door became our little house. We didn't want to leave it," she said.
Garner, a builder, said the house would need to be bulldozed. "We wouldn't live here. It's dangerous."
When the aftershocks died down the family pulled out a gas stove and made a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast before getting in the car and braving broken roads, barriers and floods to reach Montgomerie's parents in South New Brighton.
Gordon Lewis, of Dallington, said sand volcanoes erupted in his yard, and his swimming pool popped out of the ground.
His 70-year-old house was "history", he said.
Many Cantabrians had close calls.
In St Albans, Christchurch, Brian Wheeler heard his mother's china cabinet rattling and jumped up to save it.
As he did, the entire outside wall of the house collapsed on to where he had been sleeping.
"Basically, I'm very very lucky," he said.
Xavier Trousselot-Rhodes, 16, suffered cuts and bruises after being hit by flying bricks and debris as his home, the historic Hororata Homestead, about 30km west of Christchurch, came near to collapse.
Another Canterbury homestead owner, William Cottrell, of Glenroy, said he fled his bedroom seconds before tonnes of debris crashed through the ceiling as two brick chimneys collapsed and smashed through the roof of his beautifully restored 98-year-old house, Gunyah.
He jumped out of bed just before it was crushed by bricks and was left "knee-deep in bricks" and with an injured leg.
The house was a "complete disaster", Cottrell said.
James and Pru Kilshaw were rushing out of their St Albans home in the middle of the earthquake when a power pole crashed through their fence, just missing them.
"We heard this almighty crack. I just dived to the ground," said Pru Kilshaw.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said: "There has not been a house or a family in our city who have not suffered damage in some way, but this is a city working together to do what we can before nightfall.
"We are not looking at a levelled city, but we are coming to terms with the damage, which is a bit like an iceberg – there may be significant structural damage underneath."
Police were soon spreading out throughout the city and the region after the quake.
Much of the central city, where many old buildings had lost roofs, walls and had severe cracks, was soon closed off, with checkpoints at almost every intersection.
"Don't you know that building is condemned," an officer screamed at a man trying to get to work past the destruction, which rendered the streets ghostly quiet.
Canterbury road policing manager Inspector Al Stewart said reports of looting were incorrect.
Police had dealt with two men who had thrown a brick through a shop window to help themselves. Residents' behaviour was "predominantly good".
A curfew in the central city and in Kaiapoi, about 20km north of Christchurch, was imposed between 7pm to 7am, Saturday to Sunday.
Once the scale of the disaster sank in residents realised they were ill-prepared and shoppers flocked to Christchurch supermarkets, emptying the shelves of bottled water and other supplies.
By 9am on Saturday the central city Pak 'n Save was bustling with shoppers and had already run out of bottled water and candles.
A Hornby Pak 'n Save store manager said the supermarket had run out of necessities such as batteries, water, milk and candles.
"We've run out because nobody was prepared for this like they should've been. It's been crazy," he said.
SuperValue and Fresh Choice marketing manager Phil Power said the biggest concern would be ensuring food continued to be distributed over the next week from North Island suppliers.
Petrol stations also coped with panicked motorists, but Sam Park's service station in the coastal suburb of New Brighton was unable to take advantage of the boost in trade.
When Park arrived at work he found the service station's forecourt had lifted about a metre.
In New Brighton Rd water was spewing up from broken pipes, causing flooding and mixing drinking water with sewage.
The walls of the area's pumping station had cracked, meaning the mains could not be turned off.
Kevin Wilkes was one of many people on Saturday filling buckets from the river to flush his toilet.
"We didn't have much damage but it was pretty scary at the time," he said.
The hardest-hit residential area was Kaiapoi, north of Christchurch.
Sewerage and water pipes were fractured and homes and businesses were flooded.
About 20 buildings in its centre were severely damaged, including Blackwells, one of New Zealand's oldest department stores.
A swing bridge across the Kaiapoi River broke in the middle.
Many households lost water and power, and the Waimakariri District Council advised those in badly affected parts to leave the area while officials worked to restore services.
Crucial investment in earthquake strengthening saved some of Christchurch's most important buildings, but the city's heritage had still suffered a terrible blow.
The facade of the Repertory Theatre in Kilmore St was reduced to rubble.
Churches such as the Oxford Tce Baptist Church, St Cuthbert's (1862) in Governors Bay and the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Lyttelton (1860), and St John's Church in Hororata suffered major structural damage, with parts of walls dropping out and parapets falling.
Dean Peter Beck said Christ Church Cathedral had fared remarkably well.
"My thanks go to the council for all that earthquake-strengthening work," he said.
"Without that, we would have had major damage."
City council environmental policy and approval manager Steve McCarthy said at least 125 commercial buildings in the city had "serious to semi-serious" damage.
Lyttelton's Timeball Station, built in 1876 and strengthened about five years ago, survived reasonably intact, although a large section of chimney smashed through part of the roof.
Some water damage was caused when the sprinklers went off.
Timeball Station property manager Jan Titus wept when she saw the damage.
Most of the work to bring the station up to a prime condition had almost been finished, she said.
"It's a big step backwards," she said.
Architect Sir Miles Warren was left wondering if he could restore his beloved Ohinetahi homestead to its pre-earthquake conditions.
The quake collapsed four upper gables and sent stones crashing on to the building.
Ohinetahi was just one of the distinctive Canterbury homesteads damaged.
The homesteads once housed Canterbury landed aristocracy.
The well-known Dean's family Home Bush homestead came close to being flattened and the Bangor homestead was also damaged.
Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said the impact on businesses would be "awful", with those that had offices in unstable buildings likely to face weeks of lost revenue.
"Everyone I talk to is just in shock.
"It is a huge hit for businesses."
Businesses had so far shown incredible resilience and would recover, despite costs that would spiral into the billions, he said.
Yesterday, emergency and council workers were busy restoring services.
About 90 per cent of the power supplies had been re-established by last night and about 80 per cent of people had water and were able to flush their toilets.
But normality is still a long time away.
Schools will close today and tomorrow, and much of the town will remain shut until Wednesday.
Many workers will find the businesses in which they work will need major repairs and clean-ups. An accurate picture of the damage has yet to emerge. Whatever it shows, as one Kaiapoi resident who was cleaning up yesterday said, "things will never be the same now".