Christchurch earthquake: Luck and loss at epicentre

By Elizabeth Binning

Neil Struthers and wife Robyn outside Lyttelton's Holy Trinity Church with their son's crushed car. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Neil Struthers and wife Robyn outside Lyttelton's Holy Trinity Church with their son's crushed car. Photo / Sarah Ivey

From the air the township of Lyttelton doesn't look too badly damaged.

Large boulders and debris block one of the main roads in, there are cracks within the port's grounds and the odd home has a damaged chimney or roof. A few buildings appear to have collapsed but most of the township looks to have survived relatively unscathed.

It's only when you hit the ground and start walking the streets and talking to shocked residents that the real extent of the damage, and amazing survival stories, start to appear.

There are the two men who managed to escape serious injury when the ceiling collapsed around them at the local pub - only to make it outside to find their car crushed by bricks and an entire wall, including windows and curtains, of a neighbouring building.

A couple travelling into the town on Sumner Rd had just got out of their car to admire the view when the 6.3-magnitude quake struck - the epicentre just metres away in Lyttelton township.

They turned around to find huge boulders from the cliffs above the road had completely flattened the car they'd just exited.

There's also the woman who was playing the piano inside a church who managed to escape shaken but uninjured when the historic walls crumbled around her and stained glass windows shattered. But as friends and family gathered yesterday to share their tales, stories also began to emerge of some who were not so lucky.

The Rev Neil Struthers said he was aware of at least one death, that of a married man with two young children who was trying to make it back from Christchurch to his family in Lyttelton after the main quake had struck.

With the only roads in and out of the township blocked by debris, the 40-year-old man, like many others, took to the Bridle Path - a track on the hillside above the town - to try to walk home.

He was instead hit by falling rocks during an aftershock and instantly killed. It is understood Army personnel recovered his body while Mr Struthers spent Tuesday night comforting his grieving family.

Some of the town's residents have also suffered injuries, including one man whose back was reportedly burned when an urn of boiling water exploded inside a coffee shop.

Those who've escaped injury are turning their attention to the clean-up.

Despite the largely unscathed appearance of the town from the air, many buildings and their contents are badly damaged.

Chief Fire Officer Mark Buckley estimated up to 50 per cent of the town's businesses had suffered severe damage and about three-quarters of homes around the port were uninhabitable.

Emergency service staff, Army personnel and civil defence volunteers yesterday went into the most dangerous areas, checking door-to-door that people were all right.

He said there were no reports of anyone trapped but many elderly residents were in shock. Most people spoken to by the Herald were just grateful to be alive.

- NZ Herald

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