The Earthquake Story (where Disaster meets Adventure)


On behalf of my Brother (Jason) I am posting his written account of his experience during the Earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand on February 22nd.

The Earthquake Story (where Disaster meets Adventure)

Brett and I were due to take off from Brisbane at 4:30 on Monday for a 2 day workshop in Christchurch, But a doctor’s visit in the morning threatened to keep us grounded before we even got to the airport, some antibiotics later and the trip was set, only to be delayed by not 1 but 2 serious storm cells. Later in the afternoon my wife (Andrea) reported our house was flooded from a leak in the roof and big tree branches had come down in the backyard. So after 3.5 hrs delay (including an hour on the tarmac) we took off around 8pm Brisbane time and a non eventful flight until near landing we went through some turbulence that makes the tower of terror at Dreamworld look lame. We landed ok at 2am local time, picked up our car and made our way to the hotel, hit the sack at 3am local time and set the alarm for 7:45am.


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Hotel where we stayed

We Woke up after 4 hrs sleep, had breakfast then drove off through Christchurch peak hour traffic to Independent Fisheries(IDF), in a suburb called woolston 10km from the city (see picture of the Christchurch). We noticed quite a bit of construction from the quake back in September but in general the city was looking ok. Arrived at IDF at 9am had introductions and started the workshop with Scott(IT) and Mark(Engineering manager). At about 9:30am a big jolt hit the building, like a forklift had hit the side of the building. Our hosts explained that it was a small quake (rated 3) and they hadn’t had one for a while….they had experienced a lot of aftershocks after the September 4 quake but none recently. It was a bit of an experience and Brett in particular was chuffed at morning tea as he enjoyed a home baked scone celebrating his virgin earthquake experience. I confessed that as a boy I had been through one in Napier (North Is NZ) and my Grandfather had been in and survived the 1931 quake that levelled Napier and killed 256 people. We then finished the workshop with Mark and went down to lunch around 12:40. Brett enjoyed the scones so much he had another one claiming that he deserved it after surviving the 3.1 quake, while I tucked into a pie and chips. 5 minutes later a roar and some serious and violent shaking. We were sitting at a table that was fixed to the ground as were the chairs…..Brett and Mark went straight under the table, I looked at a doorway which a number of people ran for but decided to hang on to the table for dear life, little did I know Brett was urging me to get under the table for fear of the roof collapsing. It’s hard to know but this violent shaking went on for around 10 seconds and as soon as it stopped Brett and others were yelling “let’s get out of the building”, so we made an immediate exit out, across the road and into an empty field,

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The lunch room where we were when the quake hit

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Room where we worked

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The table we were sitting at

amongst about 100 IDF employees.  Lots of commotion, women crying and confusion.  A few minutes later the earth began to rumble again, the first and probably biggest aftershock.  In the foreground of the IDF building were hills and Brett spotted a landslide, also 100’s of birds were in the sky. After the aftershock we were feeling very shaky and then water started pouring out from out of the ground, our host Mark says quite candidly “oh that is liquefaction” I thought “liquewhat?”. A couple more aftershocks and heaps more water, 10mins had past, people were starting to suggest we move out.  By now the road was 1/2 flooded and our rental car was in danger.  Shoes and socks off we got over the big puddle hoping not to fall in a big crack, got the car out of the water then we went back in the building to recover our gear. The boardroom we were working in was a mess, glass on the floor and everything had been lying around.

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Water coming out the ground (liquidfaction)

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After just a few minutes.

Was tricky with bare feet but we navigated our way to our computers and amazingly they were still on but were just fully open, like you push the monitor all the way to the table.  We acted very quickly, got our gear and back out of the building and into the car.  We were in a Mazda 3 and had to drive through quite a big puddle, got through but had to navigate a road that was very muddy and soft and almost got bogged once.

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Road out of IDF

We then decided to try and head for our hotel while we decided what to do next.  Thank goodness for the GPS.  It was slow going, after making contact with Cassie we decided that we should try and get a flight booked out of Nelson (5hr drive from Christchurch). ½ hour later Cassie had accommodation and flights booked out of Nelson/Auckland.  We would try and get our gear from hotel then potentially drive to Nelson.  After an hour and a 1/2 of driving about 7km and another 6 aftershocks, we ditched the car and walked the remaining 2kms.

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Part of our walk was through the CBD, it was like a war zone.  Army personnel, fire personnel, police, ambos, it was all happening……just utter destruction, people crying and congregating in parks.  Buildings ranged from minor damage, major damage and completely destroyed…..buildings that were being repaired from previous quake had further damage. Big cracks in roads, pathways buckled….etc. About 1/2 hr walk and we made it back to the hotel, it was intact, fair bit of mess but ok. Hotel advised us it was rated for a 9scale quake.

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Note the time on the watch tower (right when the Quake struck). It looks like the tower is at half mast.

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Built after the September earthquakes

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We made it to Brett’s room and had a beer to calm ourselves down……what to do……hotel, was safe, had power and food…..rang our family and friends, to let them know we were ok then Virgin Blue and they had no idea about what would happen to flights, we decided to sit tight.

First thing was to go and get the car before dark, so we trekked back to the car back through devastated cbd.  So many buildings and houses damaged.  We were trying to scope a route for the car to get back to hotel and saw one road open and asked the fellow looking after the intersection if we could bring our car down here safely? and he said “sure mate, it’s safe as houses” and we inquired to which houses he was referring to as there weren’t many that looked that safe lol. We got to the car, was about 1/2 hour drive to get back to hotel,

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Train tracks snapped in two

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Emergency housing

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then we sat at the hotel bar…over a beer….what should we do.  It could be Thurs or Even Friday before we could leave….another aftershock….let’s get out of here, get an early night, drive to Nelson and go.  Hotel served food for 30 dollars but we thought we could get a better price elsewhere and went for a walk to find food, an hour later all we found was chaos, no shops open no fast food outlets nothing. Just people trying to get a grip, so we decided $30 was a fare price for a meal, went back and the food was finished….Luckily the manager at the hotel and the staff had done an amazing job of feeding everyone and found more food to serve so we got our meal and drinks. This while people where homeless and destitute, some stuck under rubble and most having the worst day of their lives. A very surreal experience, another aftershock signalled bed time.

That night was one of the longest nights ever, the constant aftershocks kept you awake or in a very shallow sleep, sometimes waking us up in time to hear as the earthquake raced towards you, we could hear as the buildings in the distance rumbled and soon the shaking started in the room, each one had you thinking it could be another big one, with our hearts racing a million beats a minute all we could do was wait for the next one, and there where allot,  more than one an hour. This while outside it got cold and had started raining making life for the people stuck under buildings absolute hell and the aftershocks making rescue efforts a nightmare.

The next morning at 6am with red eyes we went to the hotel to book out, no sooner had we finished booking out when Christchurch gave us another large aftershock just to say good bye, this made the 5 hour road trip to Nelson seem like a welcome pleasure.

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From Nelson after a delayed flight to Auckland we made our way through the longest queue outside of Russia to the Emirates counter and on to our final flight out of NZ to Brisbane.  The flight was relaxing and over very quickly, and as if the ground crew could sense we had had enough customs let us through with no problems. As we left the arrivals area we walked straight into our kids and wives who had had enough and decided to surprise us.

We can’t say how much we appreciated everyone’s thoughts and concern.  We can’t thank Cassie enough either who was with us the whole way, helping us logistically and being a calm voice to us all the way.  We consider her the 3rd member of our team as we made our way home, Thanks again Cassie!!!

Here is a map of Christchurch to give an idea of the geography:
christchurch earthquake map


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