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Shaken but not stirred

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Dennis BurnsOur Chairman’s Christchurch experience

It was meant to be a poignant and romantic weekend away but suffice to say Saturday did not turn out as expected.

To keep it short we were right in the middle of Christchurch 20 stories up during one of NZ's biggest earthquakes in recent times. We make it out safe and sound and are now back in Wellington

If you haven't heard we had a fairly large earthquake in NZ over the weekend centered just outside Christchurch.  To cut a long story short, guess where Diane (my wife) and I decided to spend our overdue romantic weekend. Yes Christchurch!

But going back to the beginning of the weekend. We had a great day on Friday beginning with Mum and my three sisters joining Diane and I at Wellington airport for the flight to Christchurch. It was great to be together again. At Christchurch we had a large car booked so we could all travel together, and off we went. We headed off to RNZAF Wigram to hand over my fathers research and afternoon tea, meeting other friends at the venue.

Following this and a short tour of the Museum we headed up to the lounge and spent an enjoyable hour and a bit reminiscing and talking.  Before we new it was time to say our farewells. The family then headed back into Christchurch to enjoy a "quiet" glass of wine before it was time to head to the airport. Diane and I dropped them all off early so they could enjoy a nice relaxing meal in the Koru lounge before heading home. 

Unbeknown to us Mum and my sisters had a long wait before heading out, thunder and lightening delaying their departure from 9:15. Till a last reprieve flight at 10:30 to Wellington and then onto to home towns Wanganui and Palmerston North. They did not get safe and snug into bed till the wee hours of the morning.

In the meanwhile and deciding not to go far we had a lovely meal in the hotel. Even getting a chance to avert disaster but putting out a napkin fire on an adjoining table after the diners had left the napkin sitting over a candle.  My heroic actions earned much thanks from the restaurant manager and a couple of free drinks vouchers.  (We hoped to use the next night)

So very tired we retired relatively early for a good nights kip.

That is until 4:36am in the morning when all I can say is, the scariest moments Diane and I have ever experienced happened and as the 7:1 scale earth quake hit Christchurch,  now as an aside and being Wellingtonian's, Diane and I are used to tremors but they are usually of the short sharp jolt type. 

This one rolled in and the building started to sway back and forth for what seemed an eternity. The room we had was on level 20 and of course the swaying continued for a period after the initial quake had finished. The room had two double beds and I managed to drag Diane and I into the void space between them and there we waited for it to stop. As I said it seemed an eternity. Though in reality it was probably only 40 seconds to a minute for the initial shock.

In complete darkness as there was no power and no emergency lighting we managed to get dressed and we started to asses the situation. Firstly we were safe and unharmed and the building (our room) was intact and apart from moved furniture and draws open etc there was only very minor cracking evident in the corners,  exterior windows were intact and no evacuation sirens were sounded.  Whilst Diane held our unit door open I then went and checked the safe path egress which was also intact and the emergency lighting to the stair was on.  Apart from minor cracking at construction joints the solid concrete walls were intact and there was no damage to the stair well.

Wrongly or rightly we then decided to stay dressed and stay in the room until daybreak.  Fully clothed we lay in the bed and kept warm, but ready to go as the aftershocks rolled in. Finally at 6:00 dawn broke and as the cell phone network was still operating we sent off txts letting the rest of the family and friends know we were safe.

We also then packed our bags and slowly made our way down to the lobby, about half way down the lighting stopped and we were in total blackness.  On came the iPhones and we used the light from them to illuminate the stairs down to the lobby.

When we arrived there it was a scene of organized chaos as those guests who did not feel safe in their rooms had come down to the lobby to be looked after by Hotel staff ( all of whom were amazing) we joined them and sat around waiting for power to come on and directions on what to do next. Stuart our son was keeping us informed with txts as the morning news reports on TV progressed.

The hotel laid on free cold food and hot drinks to keep spirits up, a while later around 8:30 power was restored and we were advised that we could grab our car and make an orderly passage out of the hotel.

As an aside two of Diane's work colleagues were also in Christchurch and working at a conference in Christchurch Convention Centre and staying at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Diane had txt'd to check they were OK!   Having established they were, we decided instead of heading straight North to keep our intended visit to friends in Culverden, we would go their hotel to ensure Diane's work colleagues were safe. So we made our way slowly past the debris and rubble to their hotel, the police were by this stage setting up road blocks and so after checking it was ok parked in a safe area and went to meet them.

Another ex work friend of Diane’s has recently moved to Christchurch and she also turned up at the Crowne Plaza. Ascertaining they were all ok we stayed with them for a while before agreeing they would join us in our trip to Culverden.  Keeping an ear on the news we were trying to decide whether to carry on North and catch a ferry home or if ok return to Christchurch and if the airport was to reopen, catch a flight home as planned on Sunday.

So we headed north to visit our friends, we all had an enjoyable lunch and also had a chance to check the TV news of events unfolding and recharge our mobile phone batteries.  Completely different seeing it on TV when such a short time before, we were right in the middle of it all.

They opened the airport mid afternoon and having checked, were advised that all hotels in CBD would not be reopening as it came within the exclusion zone.  Our friend Kerry then remembered a motel in Merrivale she had seen, and on calling found out it was fairly brand new and had come through the quake unscathed, it also had full power and running water.  We booked three apartments.  She headed straight back whilst Diane I headed north to Hamner for a drive, a chance to chill out and as it was such a beautiful day, look at the scenery.  After a coffee in Hamner (we forewent the hot pools), we then also headed back to Christchurch.

Mid morning Diane’s CEO had rung to see how they all were and was pleased all were safe and sound.  She suggested that on the return to Christchurch we get some champagne and have a toast to the fact that we had all come through unscathed.  A wonderful and much appreciated gesture which was duly taken up along with some cheese, crackers and grapes.  We all then headed to a local pizza place for a meal, before retiring to our unit for chocolates as desert.

Other friends had joined us and they made their farewells shortly after desert, we then all adjourned to our units, and though much bravado was shown, all were apprehensive of what the night might bring. 

There was mainly minor aftershocks during the night, though there was a biggie early morning.

Diane and I were up and gone really early to catch our 9:00 am flight home.

And of course to make sure we knew we were leaving, a storm front had raced across the Tasman, ensuring a rough and bumpy flight home.



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