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.