So Many Here Lost Their Loved Ones, Homes, jobs.Their Worlds Collapsed; Dundalk Girl Angela Mullin Dreamt of a Great Life in New Zealand. but after Surviving Two Earthquakes, She Now Just Feels Lucky to Be Alive

Article excerpt

Byline: From Angela Mullin IN CHRISTCHURCH

It was 12.50pm on February 22 in Christchurch, New Zealand. My grumbling stomach was signalling lunchtime. Trying to save money, and remembering Eddie Hobbs's sage advice, I had brought in a homemade salad. After four hours of hard work, it didn't look too appetising. Screw it, I thought, I'll go out.

I trotted downstairs and went out the side door of my work building, The Press, located just off Cathedral Square in the city centre. The door slammed behind me as I stood fumbling in my disorganised handbag looking for my mobile phone. At 12.51, the earthquake struck.

The ground beneath me began shaking violently as huge chunks of stone wall started falling in front of my eyes, about two feet from my face. After a few seconds, I realised what was happening - I had been here for the quake that struck on September 4 - and I stood frozen under the doorway, my hands clasped over my head. I pushed back in against the door so that the small concrete frame above me would offer some protection.

A huge cloud of dust rose as chunks of brick fell to the ground and I closed my eyes tightly to stop it from blinding me. When I opened them, I saw colleagues running out of the main door of my building, located a short distance to my left. I jumped over the fallen rubble and ran over to join them, shaking.

Workers began streaming out the front door, some screaming and crying, some with blood on their faces, where debris had hit them inside. I saw a familiar face and grabbed onto her - she was shaking, too.

Several minutes later, there was another rumble, and I screamed as I saw pieces of the beautiful Christchurch Cathedral, the back of which faces The Press, crumble to the ground like a sandcastle.

Someone yelled: 'There are people in there!' When I looked up, I saw a person through a second floor cathedral window, scrambling to climb out.

A voice shouted: 'Get to the square, get to the square'. We ran across the road to the large, open Cathedral Square. The square, normally a hub of happy activity with musicians playing and market stall holders selling crafts, was a scene of chaos as people stood in shock and confusion, running, crying, not knowing where to go or what to do. I can't remember how long I was standing there before a woman from work ushered me to another location, an open car park on Gloucester Street away from many high buildings.

I saw an Irish colleague from Galway in the crowd. He came to check if I was okay and it was then that I realised I was covered from head to toe in grey dust. I frantically tried to call my boyfriend, who ironically had started work that day in the Earthquake Commission, processing claims from the September 4 quake. The phone network was overloaded.

After a while, texts began coming through from friends in the city, many of them Irish.

I remember being ushered to another location, Latimer Square, and talking to several people but I can't remember who they were or what we talked about. I was in shock.

I eventually received a text from my boyfriend, who couldn't pass the police cordon that had rapidly been put in place, so I ran for about 10 minutes from where I was to Armagh Street on the other side of the city, where he was. I jumped over bits of debris and walked through silt that had erupted through the earth on my way. It was a stupid decision, now that I think about it. But I found him and another friend, we hugged and I saw tears in their eyes.

I was in such a daze that I didn't realise until I saw it on TV the next day that one side of the third floor of The Press building had completely collapsed onto the second floor, on top of the newsroom. The third floor was where I would have been sitting in the canteen eating my lunch had I not been such a sucker for cafe food.

That night I stayed in the suburb of Rolleston, with my Kiwi boyfriend's parents, where they were relatively unaffected, and had power and water, unlike most of the rest of the city. …