We Remember

Day 18: Compose a series of anecdotes
Today, tell a story through a series of anecdotes (also called vignettes): short, episodic scenes or moments that together read as variations on the same theme. 

Based on real life accounts published in the local newspaper. Names and some details of individual experiences have been changed.

Last month over 1000 people gathered to remember the 185 who died in the February 2011 earthquake. I have written about my own experience of that frightful day here. With Christchurch still experiencing ground movement, we can’t help but be reminded of the many lives lost. Survivors guilt is very real, and whilst fleeing the rubble relatively unscathed brought with it renewed gratitude for life and loved ones, grief for those less fortunate continues to percolate the surface of emotions for many, especially around this time of year.

New Zealand Earthquake

February 22nd 2011, 12:51pm,
Christchurch, New Zealand 

The low rumble intensifies before Anderson reaches the center of the room, the ground beneath him gives way as the building collapses into itself. ‘This is it,’ he contemplates, before plummeting into concrete below.

The shaking stops and an eerie silence ensues. ‘I must be dead.’ The silence is pierced by a female coughing and then he too is coughing, choking on the thick layer of dust which envelopes them. The agonizing pain of his left hand confirms his existence as it throbs with the motion of his body. He winces. ‘Are you alright?’ he asks his colleague. Jenny? Sarah? Elaine?
‘I think so,’ she replies.

Soon after, sirens spring to life and two hours later, they are rescued. Emerging from the rubble, they are met with cheers from the street below. Inhaling the air as if it were to be taken from them again at any moment, they stare at the ruinous sight before them. We are the lucky ones…


The shutter on Langley’s camera clicks as the earth beneath murmurs its low guttural groan. Horses in the nearby paddock whinny as they jostle and bolt. Langley is thrown to the ground and he clings to the grass, the earth jerking beneath him like a wild bucking bronco. Turning towards the city where he sat at his desk just thirteen minutes prior, he watches as a thick blanket of smoke rises like an ominous cloak.

Within seconds he is behind the wheel of his Toyota racing towards the city, his camera on shane-tomlin-lead-300x340the passenger seat beside him.  Nothing can prepare him for what he finds when he arrives at the center; buildings brought to the ground, terrified people with blood stained faces. He pauses, sees that the emergency services are working hard to rescue those in need of help, then reaches for his camera.

As he takes the photos that will document a day set to change Christchurch forever, Langley spots a man pulled from the rubble, his face covered in dust. He is comforted by two males who have come to his aid. The dust covered man stares down the barrel of Langley’s lens. Click. 


Strolling through Christchurch’s City Mall, Mary’s daughter turns with a smile as she holds up a pretty floral scarf, “Isn’t this …” She stops mid-sentence, eyes wide as the deafening roar consumes them. Before Mary can run to her daughter’s aid she is thrown into chaos and darkness.

Seconds seem like minutes, minutes like hours and hours like days, and all the while Mary is unable to reach her daughter. Her legs trapped beneath the rubble, she tries to call for her girl: ‘Amanda… Amanda…’ Nothing. She lies back in agony, not sure which is worse, the pain of her crushed ankles, or the heavy dull ache in her chest. In the darkness that surrounds her, Mary begins to weep.

She doesn’t know how much time has passed when she is finally pulled to safety, only that she does not want to leave the wreckage – not until her Amanda is also rescued. Against her will, Mary is raced away to the hospital, all the while calling out her daughters name… ‘Amanda…’



48 hours later

Anderson sits in his leather arm chair staring at the forgotten brew in his lap. He has sat this way for over an hour, thoughts of his fallen colleagues circulating like a never ending ferris wheel. Up one moment, down the next, as news of his co-workers trickles in: Saho from Japan who’d arrived that morning to learn English as part of her studies… Peter, who always greeted him with a smile as he collected the mail… Janice, who was to attend her daughters wedding on Saturday. All of them, gone. A tear falls into his cold coffee causing it’s stagnant surface to ripple.


Langley sits staring at the screen in front of him just hours after hearing the news that the dust covered man he had photographed had later died in hospital. His editor approaches him and places a comforting hand on his shoulder. He cannot help it, a surge of emotion overtakes him and before he can stop himself, he is breaking down in floods of tears, hugging his colleague beside him.


Mary lies in the hospital bed, her husband in the chair beside her. Her legs are in a plaster cast but she doesn’t feel a thing. She is numb from head to toe, news of Amanda’s death not quite comprehensible, not making sense to this broken, grief stricken mother. She stares at the ceiling as her husband places his hand on hers; Why did you take my girl and not me?

The Fallen City

Day Fifteen: Your Voice Will Find You

Today’s Prompt: Think about an event you’ve attended and loved. Your hometown’s annual fair. That life-changing music festival. A conference that shifted your worldview. Imagine you’re told it will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force.

How does that make you feel?

Consider your voice again.

Tuesday 22nd February, Christchurch, New Zealand.

She had visited 5 months prior, in September, while we were sound asleep in our beds. She shook our TV from the unit and shattered our wall mirror just shortly after 4:30am. She left the whole city talking, wondering; making her presence known with the occasional tremor here and there. And then she seemed to depart. The ground settled, and as the rumbles became less frequent – life, once again, returned to normal. Mother Nature’s visit in the early hours of the morning had almost been forgotten; but when she returned five months later – she came with a vengeance.

The day she decided to unleash her fury – I was standing in the staff room on the top floor of our five storey office building in Christchurch, New Zealand. I had lived in Christchurch for almost a year; a move I’d made after flipping heads for New Zealand three times in a row with a dollar coin. The move proved to be a happy one – I had already met my current partner of five years and had fallen completely head over heels in love with him, his accent and his beautiful home town. With its stunning landscapes and mesmerising sunsets – Christchurch was truly breath-taking. From the kitchen at work, we had a striking 180 degree view of the vibrant central business district and its surrounding countryside – and from the main office space, we could see the other magnificent 180 degree view.

“Do you fancy coming to Cashel Mall with me?” Kelly asked. Kelly liked walking on her lunch breaks – she could survive a nine hour shift on an apple and just a few nuts and seeds. I, on the other hand, would pack at least two or three Tupperware containers of food to sustain me; I politely declined. I much preferred to fill my boots with food whilst admiring the view in the thirty minutes permitted off of the phones. Occasionally, I would pop around the corner to the Sushi Bar below, it was close enough to eat and still feel somewhat rested before returning to the relentless monotony of dialling. In the past when I’d wandered a little further afield to grab some fresh air – I’d returned to the office to find the evil red tea cup flashing rudely on my computer screen, the numbers counting down into the negatives as a reminder that I was late! Cashel Mall was a good ten minute walk away – logic told me that by the time we reached the mall and had a brief look around that it would be time to come back. Thankfully, Kelly decided that she didn’t want to go alone – a decision that quite possibly saved her life.

I tipped my healthy stir fry onto a plate ready to zap it with a deathly dose of electromagnetic waves – and that’s when I felt it. It began as a steady, rhythmic pulsating motion, growing with sudden and rapid intensity. I barely had time to react. I dropped to my knee and sheltered beneath the narrow breakfast bar behind me, clinging tightly as I was wrenched back and forth; my shoulders screaming with the sheer force of her wrath. I was pinned to the ground by her violent rocking, unable to stand or move of my own accord. My knee slid back and forth across the metal rail that separated tile from carpet, as the building swayed and jolted beneath me. A freshly boiled pot of noodles ran across the same spot, burning at my torn flesh – I could see it but couldn’t feel it – the pain masked by the adrenaline surging through my veins as I contemplated the end. I’d like to think that I thought something significant in that moment – but truth be told, my initial thoughts were Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I was then overtaken with an innate instinct to survive. I fell completely silent and simply held on tight, listening to the crashing of ceramic plates as they flung from the cupboards with each ferocious jolt. I could hear the frightened screams of my colleagues, but was unable to budge until the juddering finally came to a halt. My chest contained a charging rhino which threatened to break out and bolt at any moment. I was up within seconds, my eyes scanning the disarrayed office for any casualties – apart from a few stunned faces, there was nobody in any serious or critical condition.

Some stayed to do a head count, but myself and a younger, pregnant girl took the stairs – neither of us wanting to risk being in the building should an aftershock strike. With bated breath, we descended the five flights of stairs. No words were spoken, both of us intent on reaching the bottom before she struck again. When we finally reached the exit, the frames surrounding the glass doors were so twisted that we were unable to escape. Passers-by noticed, and one man freed us by breaking the glass with some fallen debris. Though relieved to be out of the building – nothing could prepare us for what we were met with once outside.

Standing on the pavement, it quickly became apparent that not everyone’s buildings had withstood the earth’s tremendous jolts. Our relief at escaping our office soon faded as we entered the sea of frightened faces wandering around in a state of shock. All around, buildings had fallen like decks of cards; piles of rubble strewn across the pavements. My mind raced as I tried to come to terms with what lay beneath the wreckage. The Sushi place that I visited weekly was now a pile of bricks; the Newsagents beside it was nothing but rubble, its yellow sign broken in half. I began to tremble, feeling utterly helpless. A wave of guilt ran through me as I realised that, although I had survived, many others had not. I was shook from my state of shock as fresh bouts of aftershocks hit the city. A flurry of screams came from all around as people began to panic. The sound of sirens was deafening as ambulances and paramedics rushed to aid. A hand grabbed me through the crowd of people – it was Kelly urging me to safety. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. “It’s not safe.”

Many buildings were reduced to ruins

Many buildings were reduced to ruins“Let’s get out of here”, she said. “It’s not safe.”

We slowly made our way through the confused crowds, our feet becoming drenched from the mud and liquefaction which had risen through the cracks in the pavement. As we approached my Corolla, it was tire deep in mud and water. We stopped and glanced back over that woeful scene. To our horror, Christchurch Cathedral, which had stood so grand and majestic in the centre of Christchurch’s Cathedral Square, was now crumbled and in ruins; its broken spire a chilling reminder of the fallen city we were leaving behind.

185 lives were lost that day. One of them was Kelly’s friend Joe, who was crushed beneath falling debris whilst shopping in Cashel Mall. Witnessing her grief and heart ache was utterly soul destroying. Like me, she struggled with feelings of guilt; both unable to fully rejoice in our survival when so many others had been less fortunate. That being said, the devastation left by the earthquake certainly put life into perspective again, and I will forever feel immense gratitude that my loved ones, myself included, were spared that day. Life is truly precious.

So when prompted to imagine how I would feel if an important event was cancelled or taken over, truth be told, I can’t. When I think of the events of the February 22nd earthquake, and consider other countries who are facing and have faced the loss of their homes, their livelihoods and their loved ones as a result of natural disasters – a cancelled event, to me at least, seems mildly inconsequential.

Christchurch Cathedral after the February 22nd Eathquake

Christchurch Cathedral after the February 22nd Eathquake