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Rosie Belton: Remembering a quiet city

REUTERS/Daniel McQueen

Sixty-one year old Rosie Bolton was at home in Christchurch with her husband and three grandchildren on September 4 when an earthquake measuring 7.1 shook Christchurch to its foundations. They share their experiences of the terrifying event with MiNDFOOD.

Rosie Belton

I woke to a loud sound roaring through the bedroom. Everything was juddering. Mark, my husband, and I clung to each other and called to our three grandchildren sleeping upstairs in the house. I thought we were all going to die here in the blackness – in this chaos – not knowing what was going on. I knew it was an earthquake but it was not anything like any of the earthquakes I had ever experienced in my lifetime. This one was off the chart, like science fiction. As the first episode died down slightly, Mark went to the children’s rooms, returning first with the two girls then Arlo. They were all awake and ‘owl like’ with terror. We clung to each other as more terrible jolts began and more glass fell.

    I found myself reassuring the children, trying to sound in control. “It’s okay. It’s an earthquake, a big one, but it’s all going to be okay.” The children were very quiet, and clung to me like limpets.

    As daylight came we looked around and surveyed the damage. The rooms were strewn with broken glass and fallen objects. It seems impossible what had just occurred. But there was no time to contemplate before the next shock hit. I think we had 98 aftershocks in that first 24 hours post the ‘big one’.

    We concentrated on keeping warm. It was five degrees outside. We tried to keep calm to reassure the children whose mum was away in Auckland and dad in Australia. I managed well for the first two hours and then I started to shake uncontrollably and cry. The children were left trying to console me. They sang to me and stroked me. And then the birdcall began heralding morning in Governors Bay. It was as if nothing at all unusual had occurred. But it had.

Mark Belton

What’s going on? I listened – it was like a freight train going through the bedroom, a wobbly train with broken wheels. Then I thought, ‘Where are the grandchildren?’ “Kids, it’s alright, you’ll be alright.” I wondered if this was the big one, then got out of bed to collect the girls and then Arlo. I carried Grace through to our room and then I saw the shambles. Once all three children were in bed with Rosie I climbed back in. It thought it was safer to be together.

    Later I went down to get a torch. I saw things smashed everywhere around the house. One of most the difficult things to cope with was the blackness. We rang Rosie’s sister Angie in Wellington, but no one answered. Then we rang Rosie’s brother in Nelson and he hadn’t felt anything. I then knew it was not the main divide and that it was just Christchurch. We stayed in bed, waiting for the light to come. It was good when the light came. We didn’t know what had happened until calls came in from overseas. Strangely the landline started working again.

Grace – aged 4 years

My sister woke me up and I was saying “stop it, stop it” and I went under the bed. I held on to her very tight because she was about to die. I said to Grandfather, “Is someone rocking the house?” Then he took me to Granny’s bed. I said to Arlo, “Will you stop rocking the house?” I hung on to Arlo very tight. He was about to choke. Sophia said, “I need to go to the toilet” and I would not let her go. Granny piggybacked me down to the toilet because there was glass on the floor. All Granny’s perfume and pictures were on the floor and our TV was broken.

Arlo – aged 9 years

I woke up with a drawer on my head and I did not know what was happening. I was shouting, “Granddad, stop shaking the house.” Then Granddad got Sophia and Grace and took them to my Granny’s room and I followed, stepping through picture frames and glass.

    When I was in my Granny’s bed they said I was the best, but it was because I had spit in my mouth and I couldn’t talk. I spat over the side of the bed so I could talk. I didn’t know what had happened. I was busting to go to the toilet but it was shaking too bad for anyone to take me so we all waited until daylight.

    The next day I went to my friend Casper’s house and stayed with him for the night. There was a big party because all the neighbours were too scared to be at their houses and they had no power or food so my friend’s mum had dinner for them all. There were 10 families. There was no room in the house and 27 people altogether. I went to bed in the lounge while everyone was talking by the fire. I woke up in the middle of the night because of a big shock and went to my friend’s parent’s bed and slept there. The next morning they had their chimney taken down.

Sophia – aged 12 years

I’ve never experienced an earthquake before so I didn’t know if it was really big or just small and nothing to worry about, but then I felt dust land on myself and thought I really should get my little sister – she had plaster dust on her face and hair. I shook her and woke her up and got under the camp stretcher bed she was on because we were sleeping at Granny’s.

    I was screaming at the top of my lungs: “Granny, what shall we do?” It was so noisy no one could hear me. Then Granddad came in and said, “Quick, quick, it’s a big earthquake.” He carried Grace and I dodged the broken glass and we went to their bed. We snuggled up in bed and then it stopped for a while and then it kept going.

    We had no power but we had water from the tank and the toilet worked. Granny gave us a bath with the remaining hot water when it got light. We kept warm with the wood fire and Granny cooked on it. That night before the earthquake we had thunder and lightning and snow and hail, and there was still snow on the roof after the earthquake.

    In the morning my cousins came. They had to climb out their window because their doors were jammed and they could not get out. It was a lovely day in the morning and the sun came out but it didn’t cheer us up as much as I thought it would. I felt depressed and scared and shocked. I couldn’t move and I was so tired. I could not play with my cousin and she started saying “I hate you” because I would not play with her. I felt dizzy as well.

- Rosie Bolton is author of  Just A Bang On The Head (Craig Potton Publishers)

MiNDFOOD received numerous emails from readers following the Christchurch earthquake. We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to share their stories.

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