The day that a city collapsed

Rescue workers on the collapsed Pyne Gould Guiness Building in central Christchurch. 22 February 2011. New Zealand Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell
Rescue workers on the collapsed Pyne Gould Guiness Building in central Christchurch. 22 February 2011. New Zealand Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell

AS CHRISTCHURCH struggles to recover from the deadly lunchtime earthquake that struck on Tuesday, Borderers and New Zealanders with strong links to this region have been reliving the nightmare.

By Wednesday morning, 75 people were reported to have died in the quake, and that number was expected to rise. There are 300 people still missing, with hopes fading that they will be found alive. Thousands have been left homeless.

The quake reached 6.3 on the Richter scale and followed a tremor that hit the South Island city five months ago, which clocked 7.1.

Among the most dramatic experiences were those of Simon Murdoch, the former Selkirk RFC favourite and development officer at the Philiphaugh club, who lives on the edge of Christchurch.

As the quake struck, Simon, 30, who works for an engineering company, drove past huge boulders to reach his wife Cherie.

He told TheSouthern: “The quake was far worse than the 7.1 magnitude in September due to its closeness to Christchurch and the shallowness of the quake.

“I was in my car calling a client when the earthquake hit.

“The car bounced on the road even with the handbrake on.

“The central business district [CBD, the centre of Christchurch] was covered in 200mm of water with burst pipes below the city going off.

“All I could think of was getting to my wife, who is a school teacher at Sumner Primary School, probably one of the most affected areas.

“The bridge into the suburb had collapsed, so I had to drive the summit road, dodging large boulders. It was probably not the safest route, but the only one.

“I made it after a few close calls, and ended up helping my wife for the rest of the day to sort all her 30 pupils out and made sure that every child had been collected by their mother or father, grandparent or close family friend. Parents were running and using mountain bikes to get into the area to pick up their distraught children.

“We have continued with plenty of decent aftershocks, but that hasn’t been uncommon for us over the past five months.

“My mum and her friend ended up staying the night with us on Tuesday night, as our house is brand new and has fortunately had no damage from the earthquake as we are on the far outskirts of Christchurch. I’m intending on going in to the CBD today [Wednesday] to help where I can.

“There is lots of loss of life, but touch wood none of our family and friends so far, who are all accounted for.

“The CBD in Christchurch is in ruins and will struggle to get back on track before the Rugby World Cup [later this year] which is a shame.

“We have so many old English buildings that are gone and can never be replaced.

“The whole country has been great at getting rescuers here, and Australia and England are also sending search teams.

“We have had plenty of messages and support via email and Facebook from everyone in Selkirk and the Borders – thanks so much.

“We are fine and us Cantabs are a resilient bunch and will bounce back.”