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http://www.lawyers.com.au/legal-articles/2011/2/23/i-thought-we-are-going-to-die/

I thought 'we are going to die'

Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday February 23, 2011

Shocked and scared by the abrupt devastation of the powerful aftershock, Christchurch residents share their tales of survival. 'I honestly thought, 'We are going to die'," Christchurch resident Laura McConchie said. "It was pretty horrific. It is basically like a war zone."An emergency call centre trainer for St John Ambulance, Ms McConchie was answering calls to the emergency number 111 as the building outside her office window crumbled.Her colleagues were torn between saving themselves or staying on the line to save others. When phone lines failed, they fled.Ms McConchie imagined her house was probably "totalled". "You can't just collapse even though you want to. You have to stay strong for the people falling around you."Frances Tilly, 22, was shopping when the quake struck."Everything started shaking. The worst was everybody screaming," she said. "Lots of old people were really shaken, [collapsed] on the ground."She managed to get to her car, parked on the street, when several aftershocks hit."I just felt really out of control. As soon as it happened, everyone just tried to get into their cars to get away."Anthony Rohan was thrown around on the seventh floor of a high-rise building by the quake."Bookshelves and files [were] going everywhere, it was just chaos," Mr Rohan, an accountant, said. "The force of the earthquake just literally threw you around. Trying to get under desks was a mission."As he scrambled down cracked stairs with missing windows, he saw plumes of dust through the windows, evidence that the wall of an adjacent church had crumbled."There were a lot of very shocked and frightened people everywhere ... you could see the ground move and the buildings flex."His five-minute drive home turned into 90 minutes of gridlock, battling roads that were warped by liquefaction and burst water mains. He returned to his home to assess the structural damage, and found he had no power or water.Chris Henderson sheltered under a doorway at Aranui High School but the force of the quake was so severe it knocked him sideways. A power box that fell from the wall narrowly missed his head."The first big quake didn't rattle me too much - that one has absolutely scared the shit out of me," the teacher said. "The first one was intense and long, this one was just up and down, so powerful, but really brief."Several classroom roofs collapsed and a student was knocked unconscious. Teachers could not get through to emergency services to get him medical treatment.Vanya Rothwell was in the Christchurch Bridge Club in the centre of the city. As the room shook, ceiling tiles and plaster came tumbling down. The group of 16 rushed to evacuate the building.The concrete of the car park looked like "waves in the ocean" after being torn apart by the force of the quake, she said."We saw people who were standing there and would suddenly grab on to a lamppost and hang on, and you realised the quake was getting stronger again."Train driver Malcolm MacLeod and his wife, Erika, whose house was made uninhabitable for the second time, said they wanted "just to get the hell out of here".The couple had been planning to move their family, including children Lachlan, 5, and Hannah, 2, to Australia even before the earthquake in September.After that disaster, buyers for their Bexley home walked away because of extensive damage.Now they are desperate to leave, but the home is "very, very broken"."My son just wants to leave to go to Australia - now," Mrs MacLeod said. "We just need to get the hell out of here."They were planning to stay in their damaged home last night."The roads are in such a bad condition and town's totally munted. We know that we can cope here. We've got limited provisions but we've got half a roof over us."Alanya Limmer and David Caldwell, lawyers, were stunned as they recalled the collapse of a building.Mr Caldwell had been in the PricewaterhouseCoopers building. "The one opposite him just collapsed like a pack of cards," Ms Limmer said.Ms Limmer hid under her desk before emerging on to the street."Oh God, it's a mess. A complete mess. It's awful. People were so scared, the girls in our office, who are lawyers, were all in tears."They walked for an hour to get home to their baby daughter, Tilly, and her nanny. "We were walking faster than cars were driving."Sven Baker made a split-second decision to jump under a desk rather than run out a door. It saved his life.Mr Baker, an advertising executive, was in the bottom floor of a four-storey building when the top two floors collapsed."It was a miracle really to have walked out," he said. "It was a massive earthquake, unbelievable, just took you off your feet, and the aftermath was just mass destruction."The split-second decision was to run out into the street or dive under a car or under a table, and I went under a table just as the whole facade of the building collapsed onto the street ... "It would've been all over then because the whole facade came into the street, crushing cars."Then it was just like a battle zone, really, just a street full of dust and screaming people and the smell of gas."

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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