Smailholm man tells of NZ quake rescue ‘heroes’

Screengrab from BBC video story
Screengrab from BBC video story
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CLOSE to tears and with his voice racked with emotion, a retired Borders lecturer speaking from his hospital bed in New Zealand, has praised the bravery of his rescuers.

They pulled him from the wreckage of a cinema ripped apart by the earthquake which tore through the New Zealand city of Christchurch last week.

Peter Symms and his poet wife, Dorcas, who live near Smailholm, narrowly escaped being crushed to death after the earthquake, measuring magnitude 6.3, struck around lunchtime local time last Tuesday.

Mr Symms, 73, said the film showing was about three-quarters of the way through when there was a massive explosion and the whole building started shaking.

“The lights went out. My wife and I grabbed each other, and I think I must have passed out, and when I came to I could see the sky above,” he said. “I was wedged fairly tightly under the row of seats in front. The seats had collapsed – they’d all gone down. My wife managed to get to her feet and she went out to try and get somebody to help because I couldn’t move.

“I’ve never been so frightened, I’ve never been so bewildered because I’d never been in a quake before. We had aftershocks after we arrived here [the hospital] – it was frightening, frightening.”

Mr Symms, who suffered a fractured skull and injuries to his arm and body, said it had been a learning experience as he would now know what to expect if he was ever caught up in an earthquake again.

And, with a voice trembling with emotion, he told how grateful he was to those who had pulled him to safety.

“Two men came in, and eventually a third man who was the duty manager for the cinema, and they managed to get me out, and that was incredibly brave because there were aftershocks going all the time,” he said.

“They’re just brave men – I can’t tell you how brave, how brave, they were. They saved my life – there’s no doubt.”

Mr Symms said one of the men who helped lift him from the rubble of the ruined cinema was from Seattle in the US.

“Quite incredible, he got completely covered in my blood,” he said.

“And then other people, when we got outside, which took about 15 minutes, they came up and they put their clothes over me and over my wife. So it was really quite amazing.”

A friend of the couple is former local MSP, Euan Robson, who has known Mr and Mrs Symms since the early 1990s.

“I first met Peter in the early 1990s, when he was driving Archy Kirkwood round during an election campaign. Then when the Scottish Parliament was set up, MSPs were asked to find a poet from their area who could write something about the opening of the parliament,” explained Mr Robson.

“I asked Dorcas and she kindly penned something for the occasion and did so again in 2005. They’re a very nice couple. They spend most of the winter every year in New Zealand.

“After I heard about the earthquake, I thought ‘Oh my God, they’ll be right in the middle of it’.

“I didn’t hear their names mentioned on any of the news bulletins and then Peter popped up on the lunch time television news, speaking from his hospital bed.

“I am delighted they are both safe and have sent a message conveying my best wishes,” said Mr Robson.

However, one Borders family has not been blessed with such good news.

A Coldstream dentist fears the worst after his brother was reported missing as a result of the earthquake.

John Sinclair and his family have heard nothing from his brother, Allan Sinclair, since the earthquake struck. Dr Sinclair, originally from Uddingston, Lanarkshire, was believed to have been working in the medical practice at the Canterbury Television Building when it collapsed.

Dr Sinclair, his wife and two teenage sons moved to New Zealand seven years ago. Prior to that Dr Sinclair worked as a GP in the south of England.

Rescuers have now abandoned their efforts at the television building, saying there was no sign of life inside the building. Local police say more than 100 people may have lost their lives when the building collapsed.