Woman nearly drowns in quake sinkhole

By Caroline King of The Star

Neighbour's frantically dug trenches in the sinkhole to try to save her from drowning.
Photo / Geoff Sloan
Neighbour's frantically dug trenches in the sinkhole to try to save her from drowning. Photo / Geoff Sloan

A Christchurch woman who nearly drowned in a liquefaction sinkhole during the December 23 quake is fighting to walk again after suffering horrific injuries to her leg.

Natalie, 47, who did not want her last name used, was talking with her neighbours in a North New Brighton street when the 6.0 magnitude quake struck at 3.18pm and within seconds she found herself being sucked into a sinkhole and up to her mouth in liquefaction.

"I managed to grab the fence with one hand. I don't know what happened after that. When I looked down my leg was rotated the other way round and the bone was sticking out. The guy's house I was at, he actually heard my bones snap. I'm not sure because I was out to it a lot. I remember people yelling out 'help'.''

Natalie said she was overwhelmed by shock and could not remember the pain.

Her neighbours standing nearby frantically starting digging the raising liquefaction which was flowing into her mouth.

She said her neighbours dug "trenches around me'' to stop the liquefaction going into her mouth, as they didn't want to move her in fear of aggravating her injuries.

"My neighbour said I was quite calm through the whole thing. He said I was quite brave about it. I didn't curse or anything, I was trying to hold in my tears. But in the ambulance I thought I was going to die,'' she said.

She arrived in hospital, where she has been bedridden for over a month, covered head to toe in liquefaction. "When I got there they said have you been at the beach? It was all over me.''

Natalie said "a gritty feeling'' from the liquefaction remained in her mouth for about four days. "It was horrible,'' she said.

At one stage the prognosis on her leg was not good, as her foot turned a "dark blue''.

"They [the doctors] thought I might lose my leg but now they're confident they will be able to save it. It's doing really well, the colour is looking good now. The doctors and nurses have been great. They're happy with the way the leg is progressing.''

But it is still unclear if Natalie will ever walk again, as she still has no feeling in her foot.

"I'm still going to be in here for some time. I can't move my leg. I'm going back in for my fifth surgery tomorrow. They say I'll never be able to drive again. I have no feeling in my foot whatsoever. They can't say if the feeling will return.''

But Natalie said she felt lucky to be alive and credits her neighbours for saving her.

Among those to come to her aid was her flatmate Ronald Wallace, 55, who saw the shocking accident unfold before his eyes.

Mr Wallace, who is to undergo a hip replacement, helped dig a trench to stop the liquefaction drowning Natalie.

"Neighbours tried to tell me not to but me being the person I am I couldn't just stand back.''

He said he was unaware of the severity of the injury to Natalie's leg until she was free from the liquefaction.

"It [her leg] was covered by the liquefaction, you couldn't see the damage until afterwards. It looked bad. It looked bad even before I could see it clearly.''

Natalie's father, Murray, said: "I'm just thankful the neighbours were able to dig her out by hand and by shovel. If it hadn't of been for the neighbours she wouldn't be here, there's no doubt about that.''

Natalie's injuries come as a surprise following reports that people suffered only "minor injuries'' in the series of quakes that day.

A Canterbury District Health Board spokeswoman said was not aware of anyone brought into the hospital with earthquake-related injuries.

Natalie said she was likely to remain in hospital for at least another month, if not more, before being transferred to Ashburton Hospital for rehabilitation.

- Christchurch Star

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 28 Dec 2014 21:21:47 Processing Time: 417ms