Monday, 28 February 2011

Heather's story

Heather decided to put her quake experience in writing:

I work at Shirley Boys High School and a co-worker and I decided that we would go to the Palms Mall at the corner of Marshland and New Brighton roads, as we both wanted to pick up a couple of food items. It was my daughter’s birthday, and I needed a couple of items for the birthday dinner. That afternoon the teachers at SBHS were involved in an arranged PPTA meeting, so our students had been given the afternoon off school. To ensure that the students went home, teaching staff went to the Palms to keep them out of the area. Therefore the only students who were inside the Mall were with their parents.

My friend and I had arranged to meet outside the supermarket in an open area after we had been through the checkout, so we parted company to get our purchases. I came through first and was waiting in the open area, and saw my friend, who was at that time was the second person in the express lane. Simultaneously I heard a thunk sound, and it dawned on me what it was. I had time to look around me, make a decision and run the two metres to the pillar connected to the floor and ceiling and grab hold of it, before the real rocking started. Lights were turning off and glass had starting breaking by the time I was firmly wrapped around the pillar. As the glass and masonry started to shower down on the area, I squashed my head against the pillar with my eyes open. I recall seeing someone dashing for the supermarket entry area, where there are barriers to hold on to, as the rocking was immense. The light was greenish but the glass showering was similar to a heavy rainfall. I remember thinking, “is the roof going to come down, is this how I will die?”. What amazes me now is the that there was time for coherent thought! Then the rocking stopped, the glass slowly stopped falling, and so did the masonry. Quiet came, interrupted by shouts of “Everybody out, get out”.

I had briefly noticed that I had pressed up against something as well as the pillar, and realized as I went to leave that the trolley arrangement that holds supermarket baskets had been in place but empty, and I had enfolded my shoulder bag strap around the top of the frame. I realized how I had been pushing into that pillar, and my ankle hurt where I had pushed against the frame at the bottom. But I had no injuries.

I stood for a brief second and debated, “What about my friend?”, but realized that I could not see into the checkout where she had been and dust was filling the air. I left, hyperventilating my way from the supermarket to the exit area, saying her name and deep breathing.

I left the exit and waited for her where I could see her come out; unfortunately this was still under the car park which I was not happy about, but shortly she appeared. We hugged, she brushed glass off me, and said she had managed to hide under the ledge of the checkout counter. We walked out to Marshland Road, and suddenly up came the water, then sand. We crossed the road and realized we had walked out like zombies into the roadway, regardless of cars moving. We went past the Shell Station, and I noticed that the pumps were about a foot above the carpark area (today, the area over the tanks is about a foot higher). We crossed the major intersection, realizing that the lights were not working. Around us as we walked we noticed cracks appearing in the road and footpath, past the Intermediate school grounds where the sand was appearing from the ground in front of our eyes. We arrived at school to find a full scale evacuation was taking place as the water was filling up in all the buildings. I had to roll my trousers up as high as possible, and walk through water which came over my knees. As the water was just spilling out from anywhere, I had to place my feet very carefully to make sure that I did not slip in the mud, and as the water was gray with sand, I couldn’t see what the terrain was like.

I tried to text my family, who had both sent me texts, but I think that the system had started to go down, as I could not text, but I thought it was because my hands were shaking so much, and I couldn’t explain to anyone else what to do. Talking wasn’t my best feature either. But I still considered that I was fairly together , so I decided to travel to my home which I left after 4 September earthquake and see how it had fared.

I got home to find my neighbor at his place, and found that their new extensions which had survived 4 September, had succumbed to this one. We then went to check our house, and I found that the lovely water bore which had supplied the neighbourhood last time, was broken. The bore was somewhere under the house and the tap came out by our bedroom, but the pipe had broken and water was pouring out under the house. The east wall which I thought was ok at that time, I found the next day was shattered and broken in many places with some parts facing 20 degrees away from where they should have been. The whole house looks like it has a skirt on it, as it has shifted on its foundations and the 1940 roughcast has been split at the bottom. The little brick garage that had withstood the lateral spreading of 4 September, looks as though something has fallen on it, in fact the next day we found a canoe resting on the roof at knee height after our neighbours used the canoe to get to their water surrounded house.

Next day we found that Dudley Creek had just poured over about five/six house sections, (including our back yard) and just poured like a river into the Avon. One neighbor talked about listening to the water running under his house all night. The original slumping in the road, same as at 4 September is there, and the rest of the road is generally in pieces all along the block. There were several cars parked on the side of the road, left by people who had abandoned them, and walked their way home. The postie’s car was still there listing to one side as the road sank around it. I realized that apart from turning the water off at the street, there was little I could do, and I was certainly not going inside it.

So I attempted to get home, and had been told that Marshland Road was impassable, so decided to try New Brighton Road instead. As I entered the intersection, I realized that the wonderfully clear traffic directions were being given by a young Shirley Boys High School teacher who was moving the traffic with grace and charm. Thanks to Angee Robertson. Well done! I hope she got home safely.

As I turned off New Brighton Road early, the worst area was where Locksley Ave enters New Brighton Road, (it had never come right since 4 September, so was bound to be bad). But Burwood Road was great.

I came home to our rented house, with no cracks, no lights, no water, and a few breakages, but in really good condition. I feel so lucky, and listen to the sad stories with a heavy heart. At least with 4 September, although we were shocked and found it difficult to understand why others didn’t realize what a big deal it was, there was no life lost. Those of us who had had our lives disrupted were in the minority, so everybody else just got on with their lives. This time, it is so different. I wish it wasn’t.

We took the ingredients of the birthday tea to my daughter’s place next day, and she cooked it!


Frances said...

A vividly-told story Heather. Great courage shown too. You're right, this one has punished some of us for being unscathed last time!

Alma Rae said...

Thanks Heather - really interesting to read this. That afternoon I was about to leave home for a clinic in Linwood Ave. It never happened needless to say, but the two nurses I would have done it with were at The Palms having lunch and ended up doing loads of first aid with the gear they had in the work car, before driving one of their patients home. Meanwhile I was at home on the lawn trying to text with those universal shaking hands. So glad your rented place is ok. Take care, Alma