Christchurch earthquake: At the frontline on day from hell

An ambulance officer tells his harrowing story of working after the earthquake flattened Christchurch

I was sitting down studying when the quake hit. I tried to stand up and was thrown to the ground.

I checked on the neighbours, threw everything into the car, the dogs, and off I went to work.

A handful of us went off to the triage centre in Latimer Square.

Bodies were being piled up in one corner and I was given a patient to assess. She had fallen from the top of the CTV building.

I became a triage officer, deciding who was saveable and who wasn't.

The CTV building was burning in front of me. It was unbelievable with the smoke, the flames, the alarms, the sirens, the helicopters and the screams. The church opposite collapsed.

Patients were arriving from everywhere. People were dragged out, carried out on doors, on shutters. Most injuries were severe - massive crush injuries.

I kept rotating through the roles until I was tasked to a crew, a transport ambulance.

A call came in from Cambridge Terrace.

I discovered that it was the PGC building. A crew had arrived four hours earlier and had been trying to manage with minimal resources.

One held a man, gave him his cellphone so he could ring his wife. He told her he loved her, then he died.

Another colleague was faced with a horribly entrapped man. There was no way he could be saved.

While we watched helplessly he slipped away.

Our first patient brought out was a beautiful 20-year-old girl. Her spine had been shattered.

She was contorted horribly and paralysed. She was in irreversible shock and lost consciousness as we went.

I fought with a surgeon to keep her alive, but she didn't make it.

Our last patient had been pinned for some time by his legs. Crews did every damn thing they could to get him out. In the end, a surgeon had to amputate both his legs.

We waited desperately to get him into the vehicle. I drove as fast as I could on appalling roads. He died as we arrived in hospital.

Another man had been pinned by his legs by a massive beam. We arranged all the necessary drugs to prevent crushed injuries. When we returned to him, he was gone.

The rain started, we were replaced. I returned to the Square to sign out and got taken to my car which was surrounded by sludge. I went home to get some more things then went to a friend's house.

I just want to go home. If I could get my dogs to safety I would be a lot happier.

I don't really want to live in Christchurch any more, but I can't and I won't quit my job.

They've told me not to come in today, to have some rest.

I'm very proud of what I did. I just feel numb and I've had very little sleep.

I don't know what the next few days will bring or if we will have some more success.

- NZ Herald

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