Fragments: Firsthand accounts of the February 2011 earthquake

4:26 pm on 5 March 2021

Warning: This story contains first-hand accounts of the Christchurch 2011 earthquake that may be distressing for some readers.

Those who were in Christchurch on 22 February 2011 all have a story to tell.

Some have probably told their stories many times to our friends and family - they've got used to them and they've come to define the day for them.

They're all talking about the same day - stories unfold simultaneously, they overlap - people cross paths and help each other.

Ken Hird had to learn to walk again after breaking his neck in three places.

Ken Hird had to learn to walk again after breaking his neck in three places. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Their accounts are all fragments of the same story - all little pieces of a bigger narrative - the story of a broken city.

RNZ marks 10 years since the major earthquake on 22 February 2011 with six-part podcast series Fragments, produced and presented by Christchurch-based journalist Katy Gosset.

The series brings together an archive of first-hand accounts recorded in the months following the devastating earthquake recorded by locals Julie Hutton and Sandra Close.

Ten years on, RNZ checked in with some of the survivors to reflect on their experiences.

How has surviving the quake changed the way they live?

Episode 6: The East

This episode is the last in the series and focuses on what happened to the eastern suburbs of Christchurch, which were devastated by the quake.

But it's also one of the best examples of why this series is called Fragments.

Those who were there for the quake have found that many of their stories overlap.

The first round of interviews were conducted after the quakes.

Listening back to them, Fragments presenter Katy Gosset said what struck her was how many of those interviewees crossed paths - people who didn't know each other ended up in the same place - in some cases even helping each other out.

That's why we've called this Fragments - every story is another piece of the puzzle and episode by episode we've been putting them together.

Katy's own experience of an overlap takes place in this episode, inside The Palms mall.

Andrea Robinson - a nurse and midwife at St Georges Hospital - is also in the mall when the quake strikes.

She's making for an exit.

"I heard people screaming, lots of dust, lots of glass crashing. I looked around the shop ... there was nobody in there except one mother with a little baby in a pushchair. Couldn't see any shop assistants, they'd gone. And this woman said to me, 'What do we do?' And I just picked up the front of her pram, I said, 'We're getting out of here'.

Katy says listening to that, she wonders "is she the woman who helped me lift my pram in the mall alleyway just in front of the Pumpkin Patch shop?".

"I'll probably never know if it was me or someone else, but I am almost certainly one of the young mothers she sees trying to get out of the building."

Meanwhile, Brent Williams from St John Ambulance said east Christchurch was an "eye-opener".

"The Aranui area, Bromley and that at the time was just awash with water and sewerage. Big sink holes in the road... And some cars are upended in the street. You could just see the boots sticking out of the road so they'd driven into a sink hole."

A similar hole was about to connect Andrea to another person. This time, Ken Hird.

"I pieced it back together later that when I was riding along New Brighton Road there was an aftershock and I went down into a hole and hit my head. I ended up with a broken neck and consequently a spinal injury that I'm still suffering the consequences of now... I was so fortunate for the people that came along and helped me."

One of them was Andrea.

When she arrived Ken was going blue and struggling to breathe - but she managed to stabilise him.

He was eventually taken to hospital by a truck of police. Andrea knew his first name and didn't think he'd make it - she kept an eye on the death notices in the paper.

Ken lived, and made it through a long recovery.

But he wondered how he'd got to hospital and decided he needed to find the people who helped him.

He put a notice in the paper - and then there was a news story about it.

Eventually - through a range of connections - word got to Andrea.

"Then Ken's wife phoned me and I met him," Andrea said.

"I went into Burwood Hospital and met him and it was incredible."

Ten years on, Ken and Andrea are still in touch.

Andrea doesn't seem to be the kind of person who looks back and wonders or frets over the past. The 10 years since the quake have been busy.

Kids have grown up; people have passed on and the family have had their home rebuilt. Andrea was able to keep her job as a maternity nurse and midwife.

And for Ken, there's a responsibility he feels to his rescuers to live a good and honest life. He gives some of his time to the Burwood Spinal Unit to say thank you. It also helps his recovery.

Each year, 22 February brings up emotions and some anxiety for him, but he knows the day will pass, so he can cope.

Ken believes it is probably only a matter of time until there's another earthquake. He says if he had to do it all again, then he'd leave a note for Sue letting her know where he is.

Or better still, just stay home.

You can hear more about what life is like for quake survivors 10 years on by listening to Fragments Episode 6: The East.

Fragments is written and presented by Katy Gosset and co-produced by Gosset and Justin Gregory. It's engineered by Alex Harmer and Rangi Powick. Video content is by Nathan McKinnon. Tim Watkin is the executive producer of Podcasts and Series.

Thanks to Julie Hutton and Sandra Close for their work in recording interviews and to those who agreed to be re-interviewed by RNZ.

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