Quake survivors tell their stories

5:01 pm on 23 February 2011

A woman who escaped alive from the Pyne Gould building destroyed in Tuesday's earthquake says she could hear the calls for help from those trapped around her.

Christy Clemments says she was saved by her desk, but could hear the voices of a number of trapped colleagues, including a man who had been thrown down the stairs.

Unable to reach them or even see them - only hear their voices faintly - she is praying that they have survived.

Rob Clark was in a multi-storey building on Cashel St when the earthquake hit, and he saw the spire of the Christchurch Cathedral fall - a sight he says he will never forget.

He says he escaped the building down the stairwell, which took him, he thinks, perhaps three minutes.

"It's the longest three minutes of my life. I spent the whole time thinking I hope there's not another earthquake as I'm going down, because I could just picture the stairs concertinaing down on top of me."

A Huntsbury resident, Kathleen McMullan, says she was hurled across the room by the impact of the earthquake.

"The bay windows broke, everything smashed, you can't walk across the kitchen... there's nothing whole in the kitchen or bathroom or anything like that. Everything's broken."

Elizabeth Brayton, who was in Charteris Bay near Lyttelton when the quake hit, says: "It was absolutely terrifying. The noise, the sound of breaking glass. It was horrible, horrible."

She says the aftershocks have also been frightening.

High-level business and political leaders from the United States were in Christchurch with their New Zealand counterparts for the US-NZ Partnership Forum when the earthquake struck.

Among them was the former US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, who says it was the scariest experience of his life.

"I've never been subjected to such violent shaking... as if some giant took the room that you were sitting in and just shook it. All the waiters and waitresses fell down, glasses broke everywhere; it was really quite extraordinary."

Tom Brittenden, who was at the Cashel Mall, says he helped a woman who was carrying a small child and had been hit by falling masonry.

The woman died, he says, but he is not sure what happened to the child.