Christchurch Valentine's quake: It could have been worse

Christchurch reporter Kurt Bayer on a nerve-wracked city that has been jolted back into a painful past.

You always fear the worst. Up a ladder with a chainsaw is not the ideal place to be when a major earthquake hits. The ground was tipping and rolling like being on the Interislander in a storm.

Getting down the ladder without cutting my arm off, I bounded inside to check on my 5-year-old son. "Dad, why is the door banging?"

It felt like a magnitude 6. The shaking had stopped but my legs were jelly. My news editor was already ringing. Grabbing a shirt, Jandals, notepad and laptop, I started driving the 30km to Christchurch, fearing what I would see when I got there.

Reports of a cliff collapse at Sumner came in. Head there. Traffic on the notoriously-slow Sumner road, lined with shipping containers which no doubt saved lives yesterday, was busy, but moving - and in both directions.


Police had cordoned off Scarborough Rd, near Whitewash Head where part of the cliff-face had come down, to all but residents. They appeared pretty calm. Always a good sign.

I began speaking to people I came across: did you feel the earthquake?

"What quake?" said a couple spreading out a picnic rug at Scarborough Park.

Others felt the jolt in the city while heading to the beach for a swim or ice-cream.

"It was horrible actually. It felt like another big one," said one woman.

But you still decided to head towards the epicentre and possible tsunami, all for hokey-pokey ice cream? I ask.

"Pretty much! We wanted to come, so we thought we'll just go anyway," she said.

She wasn't alone. All afternoon the beaches were packed . It was a beautiful summer's day. No magnitude 5.7 earthquake was going to deter the masses. Still, some were clearly, rightly shaken up by the event. The fifth anniversary of the February 22, 2011 quake, where 185 people died, is just a week away.

"It certainly brings back a lot of memories," said Sumner local Nathan Robinson. His boys Murphy, 10, and Charlie, 8, were playing Xbox when it happened. After initially trying to save the TV, they ran outside.

"It was pretty scary," Charlie admitted.

It's okay, I told him. Earthquakes scare everybody.

After checking their house they went to Scarborough Beach for milkshakes.

It wasn't as bad as we thought. But we all know it could have been worse.



After five years of enduring a bumpy, pot-holed, riverbed road Gary Bell drove home on Friday night, got out of his ute, and lay down on the flat, smooth black asphalt and cheered.

But less than 48 hours later, the brand-new road outside his Christchurch house - already snapped in half by the killer February 2011 quake - was bubbling in sandy grey silt yet again.

"It's a bit of a kick in the guts to tell you the truth, but that's life - we'll carry on and be right," said Mr Bell.

The close-knit residents of Linkwater Way in the suburb of Parklands soon pitched in with shovels and spades to clear the worst of the liquefaction.

The Bells' 18,000-litre backyard swimming pool collapsed during the shaking, pouring into their house, submerging the carpet.

Mr Bell says he'll take tomorrow off to mop up the sodden mess and be back on the phone to his insurers. Again.

"You gotta laugh, don't you?" he said.

Across from the Bells, Shane McCarthy couldn't believe the jolt's timing - just days after the new road was laid, and days before the five-year anniversary of February 22, 2011.

"Pretty scary huh. Just when you think we're past it all."

He was outside in Jandals, shovelling liquefaction debris with his kids, Nico, 7, and Chloe, 10.



Anne Hutton said she sitting in the Oceans cafe having a coffee and watching people on the beach with friends when the quake struck.

"We lived through all the big earthquakes but none were as bad as this ... three geriatrics trying to help each other and all we could do was fall on the fence ... amazing how powerless you are ... it was as if the path suddenly became too steep to negotiate ... the noise was horrendous and we were yelling too. Then ... cars coming from every which way. Then a huge cloud of dust came over us and now the helicopters are flying overhead. Deja vu!!!"


Jacob Savage, 17, was in the Countdown supermarket in Eastgate Mall in Linwood when the walls started shaking and items fell from the shelves.

A little girl ran over to him and together they curled up into balls until the quake stopped. An aisle over, the roof collapsed.

After the shaking stopped, Jacob said people were screaming and crying. A woman in her 60s had a heart attack.

"I've done a first aid certificate and so I knew what to do. I ran for a staff member and called 111 and I put her in the recovery position, then I stayed with her until the ambulance came."

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