Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Christchurch earthquake: Sister lay trapped with dead brother

Rescuers search the rubble for survivors and, inset Jaime Gilbert, who died in the quake. Photos / Pool/Supplied
Rescuers search the rubble for survivors and, inset Jaime Gilbert, who died in the quake. Photos / Pool/Supplied

A woman found beneath the rubble of a collapsed building held her dead brother's hand as she cried out for help from under the debris - and her heart-wrenching cries prompted rescuers to carry on digging until they freed him.

Father of two Jaime Gilbert died when the Iconic Bar in Manchester St collapsed. The 22-year-old had been working there, with his sister Amy, for only three weeks after it was bought by family friends.

Colleague Sam Siave was leaving the bar when the quake struck. He works there part-time at weekends, and had called in to do a few odd jobs.

"Two minutes before the earthquake I was in the roof space. I was just saying my goodbyes when it struck," he said. "A minute later and I would have been in my car, which was squished when Winnie Bagoes [the building next door] collapsed."

After the quake, Mr Siave and another colleague went back into the building to help a third colleague to safety. He had seen Mr Gilbert and his sister running out when the quake hit and assumed they were safe.

"Then we realised we couldn't find them and they were under the rubble. We jumped in there and started clearing debris. We were calling out to Amy ... and after a couple of minutes she started calling back to give us directions where to look.

"We saw her and when we got her out she was holding her brother's hand. He was dead. We got her out alive but Jaime didn't get out.

"It was a matter of 'you've got to get in there and do what you can'."

Amy, injured and bleeding, did not realise her brother was dead and would not leave the scene.

Aftershocks kept coming and Mr Siave decided to break the news to Amy to try to persuade her to get to safety. As onlookers tried to lead her away she started screaming: "I want my brother ... I'm not leaving him ... I was holding his hand."

Mr Siave said hearing her screams made him go back in for Mr Gilbert.

"Amy was adamant she was not going to go without her brother. I knew it wouldn't take much more to get to him ... but it was hard knowing he was dead. I wasn't going to leave him there, no way."

Mr Siave lifted Mr Gilbert from the rubble and carried him to a nearby van.

"A police officer was there and thought he felt a faint pulse so they took him to hospital. Amy climbed in with him."

Mr Siave spotted another woman in the wreckage behind the bar.

"If we hadn't been in there looking for Amy, we never would have found her. She was trapped and there was stuff in front of her so she would never have been seen."

Once everyone was free from the rubble, Mr Siave went to his car and was greeted with even more horror.

"Someone said there was a person in the van parked behind me. Two or three of us tried to get into the van, but once we did, there was no saving the person. They had lost half their skull."

Mr Siave was counting his lucky stars he was not in his car when the quake hit.

"Two minutes later and I would have been ... two minutes earlier and I would have been in the roof of that building."

He said the owners of the Iconic Bar were devastated by Mr Gilbert's death. They lost a bar in the September 4 quake, and had put everything they had into buying the Iconic and restarting their lives.

"They feel guilty ... if Jaime hadn't come to work for them he wouldn't have been in there."

Amy is understood to be recovering from her injuries and has stitches and bruising but is at home with family.

Mr Siave said he was not a hero.

"I don't think anyone in my situation would have done anything differently to me. I know I'm really lucky. If I stop for a minute to think about things I realise how lucky I am and how close it was for me."

Mr Gilbert's aunt said yesterday the family were devastated by his death.

"We have watched footage of his half-sister Amy, with blood all down her face and a broken cheek, being supported by two friends, turn around and call out for her brother, and then his lifeless body being pulled from the rubble, over and over again on the TV.

"Thank you for reminding everyone that to us, he was alive and vibrant - and loved."

- NZ Herald

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