Grilly’s Story

Sometimes I wonder if you’re just better off not knowing.  At least at the time something happens.

As it turns out, Grilly had been in the central city when the proverbial balloon went up on Tuesday 22nd.

Having attended mass in the Holy Cross Chapel in Chancery Lane, just off Cathedral Square at 12.05pm, the service ended at approximately 12.35pm.  Shortly after that Grilly headed across Cathedral Square and past the Cathedral at about 12.40pm.  She was headed for the Bus Exchange and entered off Colombo St to wait at her platform in the main waiting area of the Exchange on Lichfield St.  She had enough time to note that her bus, the No. 5, was due in 9 minutes.  For some reason, unknown to her, she chose to sit near the door – something she doesn’t usually do.

In the 5 minutes before the earthquake struck, she spoke to one of the many uniformed school students heading home for a teacher-only day.  It was a busy lunchtime crowd inside the Exchange.  At 12.51pm violent shaking began, windows shattered and material started falling on everyone, possibly from the ceiling.  Grilly said it sounded like everyone screamed at once and begun pouring out onto Lichfield St.  The jolting threw her against the doorway on her way out.  The outside of the building started shedding chunks of masonry.  Within seconds it seemed, there were police telling everyone to get into the middle of the street away from the falling pieces of buildings all around them.  Bricks and tiles from the already damaged Dowsons building  and the Exchange itself were raining down.  Grilly saw some of the school children hit by masonry and bleeding and one girl slumped against the building was carried away by two men.

People stumbled down Lichfield St, picking their way over rubble and fallen blocks and bits of building.  She moved as if in a daze, unsure of where she was and what street she was on – so many familiar buildings were down that there were very few landmarks to get her bearings from.  Everything was covered by the hanging haze of dust.  It was then that this horrible moment that no child wishes to see their parent in was captured on film and shown around the world.  My sister saw it on TV first and prepared the rest of us for the shock of seeing her there (at 1.53 in the video below – thanks to Logan from Gorilla Pictures):

Like I said, sometimes maybe, you’re better off not knowing.  Here’s my sister’s story.

What Grilly recalls next is the kindness of a series of strangers.  A tiny episode of so many in the unfolding stories of this disaster.  First she was noticed, dazed and in shock, by a man who picked her up and sat her on a car bonnet until she was able to continue.  Next two young women looked after her and sent me a text saying my mother was OK and was with them.  In some amazing act of foresight Grilly was carrying a piece of paper in her bag with my mobile number on it.  I received these texts while desperately trying to get through traffic to her house.  I thought they were from neighbours in her street at the time.  These two wonderful young people managed to get another family of strangers to take Grilly in their car and drive her home.  They had only arrived in NZ two weeks earlier and were unsure of their way around, navigating by map, in a disaster zone.

Somehow, through this lack of familiarity with Christchurch they managed to take an unusual route to Grilly’s area, meaning they missed most of the log-jammed traffic.  The streets around Linwood and further east to Aranui and beyond were badly affected by subsidence, liquefaction and flooding.  The family were able to get Grilly close to her street and let her out.  The final amazing act in her incredible journey home – two men appeared out of houses and carried her across a severly flooded intersection to reach her house.

There are very few strangers in our city now.  Those of us who are fortunate, or blessed if you prefer, to be alive and able to tell their tale, are part of a stronger community now.  We, all of us, are survivors, not victims.  And we carry each other across the floods.

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11 thoughts on “Grilly’s Story

  1. Pingback: My Story « Tyranny of Convenience

  2. Thanks for sharing your stories, pleased to hear that you guys are all ok. I was in the CBD at the time too, and it’s interesting to hear what it was like for other people. In hindsight, I was in a relatively safe place at the time. I was on the footpath in Bedford Row, and quickly bolted into the middle of the road.

    Only minutes earlier, I walked past the old ANZ Chambers building which sadly is now completly destroyed. My car (is still) parked in the Crossing carpark, just above the entrance to the bus exchange. I wondered if I should go and get it, but decided against it. I wasn’t keen on going into a multi-storey carpark, and figured driving home could be rather perilous with the state of the roads.

    I’ve wondered what state my car might be in, but imagine it will be a while before I find out.

    • I was in the ANZ building on the bottom floor. I don’t know how I survived. i never saw the flood of people on the streets. It is crazy seeing the videos from an exterior point of view.

      The acts of kindness have been truely amazing

      • Holly, that must have been terrifying – I’ve tried so many times to imagine what it must have been like for those in buildings that collapsed but just can’t grasp it. I’m glad you got out OK. There’s a chilling part of one of the videos with the guy filming asking if anyone’s in there and people saying ‘I don’t know’.

      • Wow! So, so pleased to hear you made it out. I looked at the images of that building, and Ruben Blades, and hoped and wondered if everyone made it out. I had heard there was one person in there at the time who did make it out.

        It is interesting seeing the videos – a week or so later my friend found a video with us walking out the end of Bedford Row. http://vimeo.com/20277721 (there is a group of four of us walking from the left, a guy is telling us no to go that way).

        As a footnote to my earlier comment, I got my car back last week all safe and sound.

  3. I’m glad you’re OK too, Rose. So many of us so lucky. There is some sad footage of the dome of the ANZ Chambers lying in the middle of the road – it’s like some disaster movie as you move in closer at first you wonder what it is and then you realise it’s that beautiful building, gone. And it’s real, not some movie you can walk out of.

    Good decision re. the car – too many scenes of cars crushed by masonry. They’re slowly letting people back in, in controlled groups to retrieve vehicles etc. See the Canterbury Earthquake website.

  4. Oh your lovely mum … that video of her made me cry … What an amazing story, and yes, hasn’t it been amazing the kindness of strangers. xxxx

      • Thanks, will pass on your love to mum and dad. Their house is quite damaged but they were living in it (until monday!) once it is cleaned up again they will move back. Not sure if you’ve heard about my mum? She’s got bowel cancer … had most of her bowel removed a month ago, now having chemo. It’s been a challenging year!

        Hope you got thru monday (and the following aftershocks) without too much drama.

        xxx

  5. Hi ciaran

    I ws brousing our web site and following links

    Thus I have just read some of these post for the first time and read Lilly’s story

    for you guys this is your 2″Falkalnd war” and you came through

    Love Margaret XX

    • Wow thank you Margaret, I’m not sure it adds up to the terror and uncertainty you experienced but I’m definitely proud of our gutsy wee family – we’re a resilient bunch – good genes eh? Oh and don’t be a stranger, thanks for dropping by!

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