Christchurch earthquake: The survivors

By Elizabeth Binning, Nicholas Jones, Vaimoana Tapaleao, Amelia Wade

David Horsley. Photo / Sarah Ivey
David Horsley. Photo / Sarah Ivey

DAVID HORSLEY

"Ten seconds either way."

That was the difference between life and death for CTV building survivor David Horsley, who is maintaining a vigil at the site in the hope others missing inside will be found alive.

That chance, according to authorities, is unlikely given the state of the building, which completely collapsed during Tuesday's quake, but Mr Horsley is holding on to hope.

The teacher, who is in New Zealand with 22 Japanese students for a three-week English language course, was standing next to the lift on the third floor when the building started to shake.

"I thought it was just an aftershock which tipped down some stuff, then suddenly it just went wild. There wasn't time to move or decide what to do, it was just crouch and hope for the best.

"I thought I was going to die ... I had my hands up on my head to protect myself."

The majority of the building fell away on an angle, leaving Mr Horsley and another man standing on a bit of rubble next to the lift, three floors up. Mr Horsley's head was bleeding and it is believed his companion's foot was crushed.

"There was screaming during the quake but after that the building was silent. We managed to climb down and then two cops came along and they came halfway [up] and then they helped us get down.

"I've got a sore head and I'm a bit stiff but I'm not thinking about that, it's my students [I'm worried about]. We think about half, maybe, are out, the rest I don't know about."

Mr Horsley believes timing was the only reason he survived - 10 seconds earlier he was standing on part of the floor that fell away and 10 seconds later he would have been in a lift or lower in the building and possibly trapped.

The search for those still inside was abandoned yesterday because of safety concerns for rescuers and the unlikelihood of anyone still being alive given the extent of the damage and subsequent fires in the rubble.

But Mr Horsley and a female colleague pulled from the rubble on Tuesday afternoon remain near the building, hoping for their students.

TRACEY STANNERS

Tracey Stanners was rescued from the Pyne Gould Corporation building after an excruciating six-hour wait under a table.

Ms Stanners told One News she called her sister and brother-in-law - a volunteer fireman - to tell them where she was in the building.

"I was hysterical, I couldn't really hear anything," she said.

She was trapped with colleagues who kept saying to each other, "Stay awake and keep breathing."

One man's leg was trapped under debris and one woman was distressed by the weight of the rubble that had fallen on the chair she was under.

"I know there was fear. I had no doubt they would get us out," Ms Stanners said.

"After six hours the darkness really started getting to you."

She was the first to leave, crawling through a "nice, neat tunnel" cleared by rescuers to the back of the building and then down a ladder to safety.

JOVY SERVITILLO

As the earth began shaking violently, hotel supervisor Jovy Servitillo knew she was in trouble - she was on the 23rd floor of the tallest building in Christchurch.

Mrs Servitillo is the apartment supervisor at the Hotel Grand Chancellor.

It was just after lunch when she began to do her regular checks, visiting each floor to make sure all was in order.

She had just reached the 23rd floor - of 26 - when the earth began to move.

"I was with another colleague when it started to shake. It was for a few seconds and we smiled at each other because we're so used to it now. But it became strong and stronger still. I said to her: 'Come, let's go down."'

The power cut out and the pair were in the dark.

Mrs Servitillo rushed towards the staircase, but was stopped by her colleague.

"She pulled me and held me and said: 'No! We have to stay here - it's not safe taking the stairs!"'

Standing in a doorway, the pair held on to the walls as the quake continued.

"We were shaking and screaming and crying. Just the two of us.

"After it stopped, we immediately ran towards the fire exit, where the stairs are. But when we opened it, the staircase going down was missing."

Mrs Servitillo and her friend began yelling for help. Two American couples came out of their rooms to join them.

"We could feel the building sinking. It was so terrifying. Every time there was an aftershock we would run to the door.

"Me and my colleague were comforting the customers and they were comforting us. The older couple, in their 60s, were okay. But the younger couple were very upset.

"We were worried that the hotel would collapse soon and we were still inside - alive. I just kept praying: 'Lord, please help us'."

The group were trapped for five hours before rescuers got to them. They were among about 30 people rescued from the building on Tuesday, she said.

PAUL HOWISON

A man trapped in the rubble of the Pyne Gould Corporation building was shocked to see the scale of the devastation when he finally escaped.

Paul Howison was having lunch on the third floor when the earthquake hit "like a bomb going off".

He and three colleagues were packed into a small space between a doorway and a concrete slab for about an hour and endured "terrifying" aftershocks before they were rescued.

Mr Howison said it was a miracle that he survived.

"When we got out ... to turn around and look at the scale of the destruction was absolutely mind-boggling. I mean we had no idea that the building had just collapsed like a pack of cards. It was just horrendous."

ACTRESS' MUM

Actress Robyn Malcom's mother Anne was pulled alive from the CTV building on the day of the earthquake.

The Outrageous Fortune actress said her mother was badly injured and was in Christchurch Hospital.

"Spoke with Mum. She was one of the lucky ones," Malcolm wrote on her Facebook page. "Was in CTV building but was pulled out. We are so lucky she is still here. Going to be with her today at the hosp. Those people who are working around clock to save others are bloody heroes."

Malcolm also posted: "In hospital with Mum. She looks like she's done 15 rounds with Mike Tyson, but has a smile. So happy and relieved to be here. We and she very lucky. Staff exhausted and wonderful as more traumatised and hurt people come in all the time."

- NZ Herald

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