August 21 2017, updated 5:32am

Christchurch quake: Eyewitness accounts

Last updated 23:53 22/02/2011

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A construction worker helping with the recovery effort says rescue personnel are risking their lives to save people.

LATEST: The Southern Demolition employee, who did not want to be named, said: "We were working on one side of the building and on that side we managed to pull one person alive but we also pulled out a body. On the other side they pulled out four or five - I don't know if they were dead or alive.

"It was awful," he said.

He said rescue personnel were risking their lives to jack up parts of the building allow members of urban search and rescue to look for survivors.

"Those guys are brilliant. They get in there where they shouldn't be and if they hear anything everything is turned off while they locate where the sound is coming from," he said.


Australian tourists Gwendoline and Ian Robinson were halfway through their lunchtime bagels when the windows in the Christchurch cafe began shattering.

"Things started sliding and you could hear it crashing and you looked around and things were just falling everywhere so it was just really strange," Mrs Robinson, 66, said.

"You were being shaken backwards and forwards, side to side ... everything was moving in different directions."

She sheltered under the table with her 70-year-old husband.

"It just kept going and going and there was glass and everything sliding everywhere and things falling and windows breaking," she said.

"Doors were opening, fridge doors, and drink bottles were crashing to the ground, I could hear the waitresses going 'Oh no, oh no, oh no.'"

They made it out of the cafe and into the street, where people roamed aimlessly in air choked with dust and the heavy smell of gas.

"This was just a couple of minutes after [the initial 6.3 magnitude quake] because I think it was about five to 10 minutes after that the big aftershock came," Mrs Robinson said.

"We were just standing in the middle of the street and other people [were] coming from buildings, some of them injured.

"A group of people were trying to get someone out of a crushed car and down the road some policemen were trying to get someone out of a crushed car.

"Dust everywhere and a very strong smell of gas ... we made our way through streets where pipes had broken so there was sewage and mud and stuff and we got back to our hotel."


A young father-of-three - with another baby on the way - said he thought of his loved ones as he awaited rescue in Christchurch's Canterbury TV (CTV) building.

Tupi Emery was trapped for five hours while his mother, Tania, stood in vigil outside the central city building, which was reduced from a seven-storey building to a burning pile of rubble.

He had gone to see a doctor on the fourth floor of the building, and his mother had just left when the quake struck at 12.51pm.

He texted her continually while he was trapped.

''Really, I thought he was gone,'' his mother said.

Mr Emery said he could hear other trapped people calling out for help.

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''I was banging on the metal, yelling out 'help', because my voice was better than theirs,'' he told TVNZ's CloseUp.

He suffered cuts and burns and when asked how he was feeling, he replied: ''Alive.''

Mr Emery said thoughts of his loved ones kept him going during his ordeal.

''I just thank everyone that is out on the street today, and all over, that is helping others.''

He said he planned to ''live life to the fullest''.


One News reporter Joy Reid said there was a real effort to get people away from the burning Canterbury Television building, a block from the triage centre at Latimer Square.

Parts of the building were being pulled down to try and control the flames. Monsoon buckets were also being used to try and attack the fire.

"The fire is far from under control," she said.

There was a steady flow to the triage centre.

"The people who first came have been sent on to the hospital if their injuries were serious and the centre has dealt with grazes."

Labour leader Phil Goff was waiting at the cordon of the levelled Pyne Gould Guinness building where at least 30 people were feared trapped inside the building. It is also believe at least one person is dead.

Families were congregating at the cordon waiting for news, he said.

Rescue crews were using crowbars and hammers to free the trapped.  A crane was also on site. ''There is concrete right above their heads, they are putting their lives at risk.

''People are hugely impressed with the rescue teams.

''They are waiting at the edge of the cordon. They are waiting to evacuate people as they can be rescued . People go about the job as efficiently and as effectively as they can.''


An emergency call centre trainer for St John, Laura McConchie, said the central city looked like a warzone and "there's flooding everywhere".

"Buildings have collapsed and there were people in them."

The Christchurch call centre has diverted all calls to Auckland, "our computers were smashed - we had to get out".

"We've run out of ambulances. We're having to use four-wheel-drives to get people out."

"People are just going crazy, they want to get home. There's liquefaction everywhere - the roads have all opened up."

"People are going to have to go by foot to get home."

"I'm contemplating how I am going to get home - what's the safest route away from any buildings."


Sheridan, 18, and her friends walked from Riccarton to Ferrymead to get away from the damage in the centre of the city. It took them two hours.

She said they were about to walk into a movie theatre when the quake hit and people rushed out of a nearby McDonalds, off buses and out of the mall.

"They ran out screaming, crying.

"We walked towards Hagley Park and saw two buildings that had crumbled and there was one that was completely demolished and all over the road."

She said Colombo St had "crumbled into the middle of the road".

"We walked past a school [and there was] one body bag in the car park, it looked like a parent and a couple of teachers were standing around it."

In Ferrymead the streets were flooded and the group had to jump a fence to get into their friend's house.

She said the house had heaps of cracks in it and the garage had separated from the house. The house had survived the September earthquake unscathed.


Around Christchurch stories of survival are emerging along with eyewitness accounts of the devastation.

Mayor Bob Parker said at a press conference this afternoon that there were fatalities, though the numbers weren't yet known, and a number of buildings have collapsed. 

"There are people fighting for their lives at the moment, but there are also people fighting for them.

"We have to treat the roads as lifelines."

He said the area was not expecting a tsunami. "We're in the middle of an extremely serious situation. We're preparing ourselves for what I think will be a really sad, bleak day for our city but be reassured everybody is doing what they can."

Around 200 police were coming from around the country.

He said there were currently people still trapped in cars and buildings, with some being able to phone to say they're trapped.


A medical student dived under a table as the ceilings of the Christchurch Hospital fell around her.

Hunterville's Carrie Peterson, 22, is in her first year of residency and was having lunch in the hospital's cafe when the quake hit about 12.50pm.

''It was pretty terrifying. I dived under a table and ceilings were falling down around us. Then we got evacuated.''

She said there was initially a triage area set up outside the Emergency Department for people with head injuries.

''Lots of people are getting brought to the hospital in vans and utes from offices.

"I walked through the city and bits of buildings were falling down and there is mud and water everywhere. The city is such a mess. It's a lot worse than last time.''

Miss Peterson said she was on her way home to check out the damage.

''It took us over an hour to drive from town to Riccarton. No-one really knew what was happening at the hospital.

"So much is going on there. I think we would have been a hindrance rather than a help there now.''


Colin Murphy sheltered under a doorway of his business's building, which had been recently repaired after the earthquake in September last year.

"The concrete walls were moving two to three inches away from the steel girder beams," he said.

There were reports of "covered bodies" in the CBD's Cashel Street Mall.

"It's a mess in town," Mr Murphy said. "It's not good, it's not good at all."

The previous earthquake had "stuffed" the local economy, and Mr Murphy expected a similar outcome this time.

"People just started getting back to normal, the Westpac Centre (the city's major indoor sports venue) was just about to open again, and now this..." he said.

"I think a lot of people are just going to up and leave."

The building housing a local television station, CTV, had collapsed.

A woman who worked on the fifth floor of the building told TVNZ she got buried under part of the ceiling.

"When I looked out I was looking out on the road.''

Another worker said others in the CTV building were injured and trapped.

Kanta Patel, who works at a service station in Halswell, on the city's south-western outskirts, said it was "absolute bedlam".

"We're the only place open between the city and here," she said. "The supermarkets are closed, everyone's going bonkers, and they're all coming out here to stock up."

Her son, who works in the city, was OK, but she was unsure about her home, which was still to be repaired following the last earthquake.


Piles of smashed glass are all a Henderson businessman has left in his brand new spa and sauna showroom in Christchurch after Tuesday's earthquake.

Bede Burgoyne owns a spa and sauna company based in Henderson and had just finished setting up his new outlet in Woolston, Christchurch when the quake hit.

"We had just finished unloading the truck.''

Mr Burgoyne had spent the morning moving a truckload of stock up from another of his spa outlets in Queenstown with the help of his brother and sister, also from Henderson.

They had just unloaded the last few items when the quake hit at 12:50pm.

"I was in our big concrete factory building and it was swaying like a cork in a bath. Everything was moving by about a metre - the walls were going sideways, the roof was going. I was looking at the roof above me thinking, if that falls, I'm dead.

"All the glass doors and panels were just tossed around like matchsticks.

"I had $100,000 worth of stock - all smashed. It's all destroyed. But you look at the factory and the showroom and the state of everything and you realise, I'm alive. If any of us had been near any of that stock at the time, we'd be in hospital or dead.

"You go from shock to sadness to joy and back to shock,'' he says.

When the Western Leader spoke to Mr Burgoyne on Tuesday evening he was driving back to Queenstown to collect his motorcycle.

"The roads were absolute chaos. I have a big 4WD so I was able to get out. The main roads were totally congested because everyone's been told to get out of the city. I've got enough gas to get me to Queenstown so I'm going to load up my bike and head back.''

Mr Woolston says his brother and sister have family they can stay with this evening. They were due to fly out of Christchurch on Wednesday morning.


Resident Jimmy Sciascia was left shaken and panicky after watching buildings around him crumble and debris come crashing to the ground.

"I was just walking down the street now, one of the main streets in Christchurch and things have fallen over," he said.

"I'm looking at like a nine-storey building - from here I'm about two kilometres away - and every single window is smashed and there's office equipment everywhere."

His friend's child narrowly escaped when the quake struck, sending furniture flying around his house.

"I was just sitting in the lounge room on a sofa chair at my friend's place and his four-year-old son was watching the TV," he said.

"The TV has fallen off the cabinet and he's just managed to grab his son out of the way before this very big TV fell exactly where he was sitting. So my mate's just saved his son's life.

"Apparently the cathedral's fallen over ... so there's bound to be people who have been crushed underneath.

"My mate's just told me the whole of town's caved in. The phone lines are down. I'm just real shaken up at the moment, very panicky."


United States band The Melvins were due to fly to Wellington tonight, but within a minute of checking in to their flight from Christchurch the earthquake struck.

The band's tour manager said the group were stranded in Christchurch, with some of the tour party unwilling to step inside for fear of another earthquake.

"We have become subsequently stranded at the Air New Zealand office complex, completely unable to get out of the airport or secure accommodation.''

He said the tour party were "very shaken, but are all healthy and not injured''.

The mood in the airport "isn't positive", he said this afternoon. "A lot of people were crying."

The band, touring with High on Fire, hoped to reschedule the Wellington gig.


Lyttleton resident John Sellwood said the people in his meeting just clung together during the quake. "It was terrifying. This was so much worse than the one that happened in September."

It was very hard to get information, he said. "People are just trying to contact loved ones."

If buildings had not fallen down then they were severely damaged, he said. "Every building down the main street I've walked past has some sort of damage. Wherever you go there is damage."

Julian Sanderson, 41, was upstairs in his converted cinema home in New Brighton when the front wall of the building tumbled into the street. 

The room he was standing in is now exposed to the street.

"I kind of realised it was pretty bad, but I knew I shouldn't run out of the front of the building,'' said a shocked Sanderson as he sat and surveyed his ruined home. 

"The whole ceiling started caving in all around then daylight started coming through the dust and I just started shouting my head off.''

Sanderson said he was unhurt and ran into the street.

He and his partner have spent four years renovating the building, which was formerly the Joyland Cinema. 

"It's totalled us no doubt about it. We won't even be able to get back in and get our stuff. That's pretty much everything we own. It sort of feels irrelevant at the moment, I'm just glad to be breathing.

"I just hoped it would stop, but it just kept getting worse and worse.''

Next door to the cinema Mark Rarity, 40, ran from his flat and was narrowly missed by the falling masonry from the cinema. 

"There was three of us trying to run out of the house. I tried to run away from (the debris) but I just fell on the floor. We are all shaking,'' he said. 

Rarity suffered a cut leg and was treated in the veterinary clinic across the road. 

Two elderly people were taken to medical centres after they were hurt by falling stock in the New Brighton Countdown. 

A crowd of staff and bystanders helped to carry them into vans before they were driven to medical aid. 

"Lights were swinging from the roof from one side to the other. Everything was falling down off the shelves,'' said staff member Michael Powley. 

One News reporter Joy Reid said more paramedics had been flown by helicopter to the triage centre in Latimer Square.

"Everything from people who have small grazes to people who have head injuries to people who are in shock."

There were a lot of people looking for loved ones also going to the triage centre, she said.

At the other end of the park were people who were looking for company - looking for people.

A nearby school had been evacuated and parents were coming to pick them up.

"This city is completely different to what it was this morning.

"Nobody expected this sort of aftershock. Nobody was prepared for something of this magnitude," she said.

"The devastation shows a very different picture to the numbers."

Angela Simmons was in a Christchurch carpark about to go to a job interview at the Warehouse when the earthquake struck.

''The car was shaking, the Warehouse windows were shaking. People were standing outside freaking out ... it was pretty freaky.''

After the earthquake she still had to go to her job interview, Ms Simmons said.

''I had no choice.''

Despite the quake, her interview went okay, although she kept waiting for "another one to hit''.

Both her daughters were in the car with her when the earthquake hit, including one on a day off school.

''Thank god she had asthma [today] and we were all together.''

She was on her way to collect panicked friends from Burwood and then to Sumner, where an elderly relative had not been heard from.

Ms Simmons, who moved to Christchurch from Blenheim last month, said she had no plans to leave the city.

''I love it down here. The earthquake hasn't put me off.''

-Stuff and NZPA

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