Firsthand accounts of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake: ‘I just felt like I was going to die’


This story contains first-hand accounts of the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 which may be distressing for some readers.

Ten years later, what impact has the 2011 Christchurch earthquake had on survivors? In the first episode of Fragments – a podcast and six-part video series – a 6.3 surge replica near Lyttelton, through the Port Hills and into the surrounding suburbs.

Morag Aldridge.
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Those who were in Christchurch on February 22, 2011 all have a story to tell.

Some have probably told their stories multiple times to their friends and family – they got used to it and the stories set the day for them.

They are all talking about the same day, the stories are happening simultaneously, they overlap – people cross paths and help each other.

Their stories are all fragments of the same story – all small pieces of a bigger story – the story of a shattered city.

RNZ celebrates the 10th anniversary of the major earthquake of February 22, 2011 with Fragments, produced and presented by Christchurch-based journalist Katy Gosset.

The series brings together an archive of first-hand accounts recorded in the months following the devastating earthquake, by locals Julie Hutton and Sandra Close.

Ten years later, RNZ spoke with some of the survivors to reflect on their experiences.

How did surviving the earthquake change their way of life?

Episode 1: The Hills

12:51 pm, February 22, 2011. A magnitude 6.3 earthquake strikes 5 km southeast of Christchurch at a depth of 5 km.

For many of the approximately 367,000 people living in the big city, the earthquake struck while they were in Lyttelton, Sumner or Port Hills.

In Episode 1 of Fragments, we hear Brent, Morag, June, Mark, and Garth talking about what happened to them that day.

“And I have to admit that at that point I thought, that’s it, I just… I’m out of time and I just felt like I’m going to die. I just thought that was the end. “

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This is a quote from Morag Aldridge.

She was jogging the Captain Thomas track and had to take a split second – perhaps a life-changing decision – regarding her next move.

“I ran away completely … it was strange because I had absolutely no knowledge of anything except escaping …

“And basically I walked around one corner, headed for the next one and I don’t know what it was, but I could tell I was running out of time …”

Morag survived and ten years later life continued. She has had another baby since the earthquake, still works at Christchurch Public Hospital and still lives in the same house in Sumner. She does not linger on the day of the earthquake.

But her emergency kit is well stocked (mostly) and she never lets her phone battery run out.

And she still remembers the sadness she felt at the thought of never seeing her children again.

Despite this, she still goes up the Captain Thomas trail, when she can.

After the earthquake, some of the first thoughts of Christchurch Gondola General Manager Mark Forster were about the gondola and those in it.

He made his way to the site, where work was underway to allow people to leave the hill safely.

“Nick, who was the lifeguard that day … he basically stood at the top of the cabin with each aftershock. [saying] you know, oh, there are rocks coming up and indicating which direction we have to run to get away from it.

“You look back and think that was pretty weird and I won’t say stupid because, you know, your… your priority is getting people out and making sure everyone is safe.”

Ten years later, the tourist attraction is back on its feet.

Mark is still the Managing Director and has done quite a bit in his personal life. Marriage, travel, homes, life.

But sometimes he wonders if there were other things he could have done that day.

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In Cashmere – a suburb of Port Hills – Garth Gallaway was at home.

He had just been told that he was receiving a payment of $ 150,000 after the earthquake that struck several months earlier in September 2010.

“So we headed around the house to spend some money at this point, sitting in our stone room, the earthquake hit. And looking back now I … I think what struck me about this was the violence of it. . It was obvious to me right after that we would never come back to our house again. “

Then his thoughts turned to his 95-year-old neighbor, who lived alone across the street.

  • Listen to the first episode of Fragments
  • Brent was on a ship – a German liner, in fact – docked at Lyttelton.

    He had helped a mate deliver fish to the ship and then got on board for an excursion.

    “We opened the doors to the ballroom and then, I swear the ship rose about three feet up, down, up, down, twice and then shivered like hell.

    The captain didn’t believe it was an earthquake.

    “He said, ‘No, don’t be stupid, it can’t be an earthquake, we’re on the sea.’

    But it was, and Lyttelton looked like “a battlefield”.

    About 60% of the buildings on the main street collapsed and most of them still standing were damaged.

    It took days for the water to be restored and the tunnel to the city reopened.

    Brent’s daughter, Lela, was in the city center during her first week of journalism class.

    A reporter himself, Brent and Lela ended their day by sneaking into the city center to break the news.

    In Sumner, June Barrett had gone to see a movie at the Hollywood Cinema.

    She remembers that there were no birds in the estuary on her way.

    “There weren’t any and there were thousands there on Sunday night … But I didn’t think about why they left, they just left.”

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    The earthquake struck while she was in the Nurse Maude charity shop.

    “Later outside she said she” looked behind me at one point and there was the sea wall on Sumner beach and I thought, please my God, don’t let the tsunami happen because there was nowhere to go to escape it. “

    You can learn more about the lives of earthquake survivors 10 years later by listening to Fragments Episode 1: The Hills.

    Fragments is written and presented by Katy Gosset and co-produced by Gosset and Justin Gregory. It is designed by Alex Harmer and Rangi Powick. Video content is by Nathan McKinnon. Tim Watkin is the executive producer of podcasts and series.

    Thanks to Julie Hutton and Sandra Close for their work recording the interviews and to those who agreed to be re-interviewed by RNZ.

    Where to get help:

    Need to talk? Call free or text 1737 anytime to speak to a qualified advisor, for any reason.

    Earthquake Hotline 0800 777 846 (24/7)

    Lifeline: 0800543354 or send HELP to 4357

    Telephone assistance in the event of a suicide crisis: 0508 828 865/0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who are thinking about suicide or for those who are concerned about their family or friends.

    Telephone support for depression: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

    Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

    Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8 am-12pm), or email [email protected]

    What’s New: Online Chat (3 p.m.-10 p.m.) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428787 (12 p.m.-10 p.m. weekdays, 3 p.m.-11 p.m. weekends)

    Kidsline (5 to 18 years old): 0800543754 (24/7)

    Rural Support Trust helpline: 0800 787 254

    Health line: 0800 611 116

    Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

    If this is an emergency and you feel you or someone else is at risk, call 111.



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