Sunday, February 27, 2011

Elizabeth Jenkins Earthquake Story The Victorian Gate House

The Gate House Fendalton 2011

My great friend and colleague Elizabeth Jenkins lived in this old Victorian Gate House in Fendalton Christchurch, about one kilometer from the centre of Christchurch and this is her story of the Second Earthquake. Elizabeth has asked me to write it down for all her friends whom she has been unable to contact so they can have some idea of what happened on that fateful Tuesday in February 2011.

The Gate House had just survived the first earthquake. It was damaged but repairable. Elizabeth joked that it was only the wallpaper that was holding it together. On a trip to Auckland Elizabeth had said how terrified everyone was of another big shake because of the problem of liquefaction. Christchurch, it seemed was now built on a jelly. She was right. The shock came sooner than she thought.

Elizabeth had just returned from Auckland and that Tuesday morning had a migraine and had stayed in bed. At about ten am she decided to get up, dressed and tackle the filing. At lunch time she made lunch and unusually ate it in the dining room when without any warning the ground gave the most enormous jolt and the brick house started to shake. She knew it was not another after shock because of its ferocity.

She jumped up and made her way to the kitchen and hung on to the butler sink. She looked around to see a balloon of dust coming from the dining room. The ground was still moving  and heaving, far worse than the previous 7.4 shake. She knew she had to get out of the house. She went to the front door but could not get it to open, all the time the house was falling to bits but somehow she got over all the glass and wallpaper that was coming down like snow and got to the back door. The house was still shaking itself to bits as she reached the safety of the lawn.

She made her way to a friends house, collecting two elderly residents of an rest home who had left clutching their napkins. Her friends were concerned as there was a cloud of smoke  arising from her house and thought it was on fire but as it cleared she could see that one chimney had fallen. Just as they were all about to have a medicinal brandy a second shock as strong as the first hit and the second chimney fell into her dining room.  The river just below the lawn on which they were all standing rose alarmingly. As they stood in shock and out of nowhere a huge tree suddenly popped out of the earth and fell over the railway line. he root was as large as her house. Elizabeth said this was the most bizarre event of the day.

The beautiful Gate House is in ruins but Elizabeth is alive and in one piece. Like all artists of the theatre, who are used to panic situations, she is good in emergencies  and as she joked. 'I no longer have to do the filing'. It is this sense of humour that gets us through.

Fortunately she has been able to salvage some of her belongings and is staying with her daughter Amanda.

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