22 Feb 2016

Chch anniversary: 'I was crushed, trapped, alone'

2:00 pm on 22 February 2016

For some Cantabrians, today's earthquake anniversary is almost unbearable. Those who were seriously injured after being trapped beneath buildings, or who lost loved ones, always do it tough on days like today.

But many feel angry, too, that five years on from the 22 February 2011 earthquake nobody has been held accountable for the state of the buildings that collapsed and changed their lives forever.

Ann Brower was on the number three bus on Colombo Street on her way to work when the 6.3 magnitude quake struck, leaving a mountain of bricks and mortar on top of her and eight fellow passengers.

"The roof of the bus landed on my left hip and there was just more and more weight and it kept coming in waves. It wasn't sort of like, brick by brick. It was more like tonne by tonne.

"And I just thought, well, this might really be it for me because I just wasn't at all sure how much more I could take."

She passed out for what she thinks was about 10 minutes after her pelvis broke.

"I sort of woke up and realised where I was and what was happening and what had happened and that I was crushed, trapped and alone.

"And I thought, this is not an acceptable situation, this is not my life. Nope, this is not me. I'm not at all happy with this situation. So I started screaming."

Days after the city of Christchurch was devastated by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, This Way Up's presenter Simon Morton traversed the city using the Avon River as his route.

One of her rescuers, a man called Rob, crawled inside the rubble next to her and told her fishing stories to calm her.

Of the four pedestrians and nine bus passengers buried under the rubble, only Ms Brower survived.

She recalls the look on Rob's face when the roof was lifted off the bus.

"I saw Rob sort of look around and his face went really white and I thought okay, I'm just going to look at Rob, only just focus on Rob, because the look in his eyes told me I should not look around."

Ms Brower spent two months in hospital and six months off work recovering from her injuries, which included half a dozen broken bones and a severed tendon.

After three years of rehabilitation, she was able to get back to life as normal, but still feels her injuries in every second step she takes.

She's angry that the Christchurch City Council has yet to apologise for failing to create a cordon around the building that collapsed on her when it had already been damaged in the September 2010 quake.

"It wasn't the earthquake that killed all the people on the bus, it was the building, and it was the city council's lack of requiring the building owner to fix it, and the city council's lack of bringing it down, and the city council's lack of putting up a fence. No, no, no, it was not an accident."

A city council spokesperson said it was awaiting the outcome of the police investigation into buildings that failed that day and could not comment until that was completed.

Ms Brower has managed to direct her anger towards improving legal timeframes for strengthening earthquake-prone buildings with chimneys and parapets on busy streets.

Owners in high risk areas such as Wellington and Christchurch were going to be given 20 years to make them safe but, thanks to lobbying by Ms Brower, will now have to do this in just 10 years. The law changes are yet to pass through Parliament.

"If these changes are implemented quickly... and if the big earthquake politely waits, then those main streets will be a lot safer," she said.

Maan Alkaisi is also angry. His wife, Maysoon Abbas, was one of 115 to die in the collapse of the CTV office block.

He wants somebody held accountable for deficiencies in the building's design which have already been proven in the findings of a Royal Commission.

"There are two channels. One is with the professional engineers... IPENZ, and the other with the police looking into criminal charges.

"So for the police, we of course are hoping an outcome will come, probably this year. As for IPENZ, it's been five years and I have not really seen any significant action."

Memories of 22 February 2011 are still fresh for Mr Alkaisi.

"We were not allowed to come here, so I was looking between those two trees there, looking at this place and I saw this horrible scene of dust, smoke, rubble, everything collapsed and I know that my wife was there.

"That was really very hard, because I realised I'm probably not going to see her again."

He and his three daughters make an effort to remember the good things about his wife, who worked as a doctor at a clinic in the building.

"There are many traditions and values that Maysoon implanted in our lives that we still carry on. Even all the good dishes that she used to cook, we learned how to cook them.

"I'm very proud that my wife was working until the last second of her life. She was treating a patient when this happened."

Five years on from the quake, the lives of Maan Alkaisi and Ann Brower continue to be touched by the events of that day and its aftermath.

Both are equally determined to make sure nobody else has to go through what they did.

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