A day like any other.
Jack was sitting at the kitchen table while his wife slept. It was just before 1 o’clock in the afternoon and his wife had been doing a long night shift on the 4th floor at Princess Margaret Hospital. The air was filled with the usual sounds of the day, the birds were chirping, traffic was rumbling past the house on the road outside and the occasional airplane would flyover.
But in a split second all that changed and life would never be the same.
The first sign that something was up was that the birds went silent, the air went quiet. A low distant rumbling could be heard far off but it was getting closer. The closer it got the louder it became until it sounded like a freight train was heading our way.
The clock flicked over to 12:51pm.
The bowels of the earth started rumbling and the house began to violently shake.
The cupboards in the kitchen flew open and their contents spilled out onto the floor. It was the biggest earthquake Jack had ever experienced and the whole house was shaking to and fro.
Jacks first thought was of his wife asleep in bed.
As soon as the earthquake had struck, jack leapt through the air from where he was sitting, towards the hallway door while reaching out to grab a hold of the door handle.
He had timed it perfectly or so he thought but all of a sudden the house violently rocked forward and the door was now another foot away. He landed on the floor with a thud.
Jack tried to get to his feet but the earthquake had other ideas and try as he might all that happened was he got thrown round the floor like a shoe in a clothes dryer.
He made another leap for the door and this time managed to get hold of the door handle. He pulled himself up and opened the door.
The hallway was long and he could hear his wife screaming.
Jack tried to run down the hallway but got bounced from one wall to the other and made no ground so again he leapt through the air. But due to the movement of the house he only made up a few metres so again he leapt and again.
He finally made it to the bedroom door. He could hear his wife on the other side of the door crying out for help.
Jack turned the handle and the door flung open. The large and very heavy 29 inch crt tv had fallen onto his wife and was now lying on the floor behind her.
He grabbed his wife by the hand and pulled her into the safety of the hallway which was the strongest part of the house and together they waited for the shaking and noise to subside.
Jack comforted his wife as she was terrified and had injured her arm badly.
The quake eventually subsided but the power was out and they had no water.
They tried contacting family but the mobile network was out as well. As they sat there wondering what to do they turned on the radio to listen for some news.
The news caster painted a picture of devastation. It was the worst news to hear. The quake was shallow and had been centred close to the city. Facades had fallen from buildings and one high rise had even pancaked killing many who were trapped inside. Jack worried for his sister who worked in town on the 2nd floor of a 4 storey building.
As Jack and his wife huddled in the corner an aftershock came. While not as big as the first it still rocked the house to and fro and more damage was caused to the buildings in town. The eastern suburbs had also borne the brunt of the quake.
Houses had been demolished and liquefaction had spewed forth from the ground pushing everything out of its way lifting houses from their foundations.
To add insult to injury there was also widespread flooding as the liquefaction had displaced water from the rivers that meandered through town, and burst water mains also added to the problem.
The aftershocks continued throughout the day while Jack and his wife stayed put in the hallway. The mobile networks were finally restored but they had no money on their phones for calls.
Jack decided to check the landline. While there was no power for people with cordless phones, Jack and Leanne still had an old fashioned phone that plugged into a phone jack. To his surprise the landline was still working so he rang his family to check on their welfare. He couldn’t ring his mother as she had no cellphone and her cordless phone was useless without power. His sister however answered her cellphone.
To Jacks relief, she was all okay. When the earthquake had hit there was major damage to the building but she had managed to crawl out to safety.
Civil defence and the Red Cross sprung into action and tradesmen who had been working in the city lent their time to sift through rubble and rescue people from the damaged buildings.
Everyone was an equal that day and worked as one big family, some with no regard for their own welfare to rescue strangers from certain death.
Throughout the day, people were searching for their families. Because it was a weekday, children had been in school and parents were desperately trying to find them.
The Red Cross were urging people to leave town if they could. Some headed for the airport while others packed their cars and attempted to navigate their way out of the city.
The Red Cross had set up centres around town and were offering $1000 per family to people who had no power or water to leave town for a few weeks.
Jacks friends, Phil and Julie came over with maps and together the four of them studied the maps to find the safest place in the country to go. A place with no fault lines.
Oamaru was the safest which was Jacks wife’s home town.
Jack and his wife and their friends took the Red Cross up on their offer. They loaded up their cars and headed for Oamaru, the town where Jacks wife was born. They all stayed with a complete stranger in Oamaru. The government were offering money to people around the country to take Christchurch people into their homes so they had somewhere to stay.
During their 2 week stay in Oamaru, they decided they would move there permanently, as aftershocks continued to plague Christchurch and were expected to last throughout the year.
So Jack and Leanne rented a house in Oamaru, then returned to Christchurch, rented a truck and moved all their belongings to their new home in Oamaru.
185 people died in the quake and although they are no longer with us, their names will live on, forever immortalised in the history books of that fateful day.
But with every cloud comes a silver lining. Oamaru is a very beautiful and interesting town, with friendly people, good weather and low crime.
Housing was in short supply in Christchurch so they rented it out to give someone else somewhere to stay and while the house was shaken violently by the quake, the damage was only cosmetic.
The house had stood its ground and Jack and his wife were some of the lucky ones that day.
While houses around them had been damaged beyond repair due to a combination of the quake and liquefaction, they had certainly been blessed that day.
There were over 10,000 aftershocks in the year that followed so they had felt justified in their decision to move.
A year later they sold their house in Christchurch and lived off some of the profit as they were both unable to work.
Jack due to the fact he was still recovering from a back injury and his wife due to the injury she sustained in the quake.
They eventually bought their own house in Oamaru and moved from their rental.
Today they both work, Jack as a real estate agent and his wife in the health sector.
The experience that day changed a lot of things about the way they live. They are always prepared for the worst now and don’t have the “it will never happen to me” mentality.
They have bottles of water stored safely in a cupboard along with candles, a torch and spare batteries and will always follow the advice of civil defence whenever a similar situation may happen in the future.
Life is much better in Oamaru, it is a much nicer place to live and while the memories of that fateful summers day are still etched into their minds they feel thankful that it lead to a better life.
7 years later the large clock in the centre of Christchurch is still stuck at 12:51pm and the council plans to leave it that way as a memorial to the 185 souls that perished that day and as a reminder of the day that time stood still.