'It was all coming down'

By Amelia Wade

• 6.6 quake shatters family's home
• Swarm of 5 tremors above 5.4 in 80min
• Quakes expected to continue at weekend

A huge crack runs through the walls of the Kerslake family's historic home in Seddon after yesterday's 6.6 earthquake. Photo / Bejon Haswell
A huge crack runs through the walls of the Kerslake family's historic home in Seddon after yesterday's 6.6 earthquake. Photo / Bejon Haswell

Laura-Jean Kerslake stood screaming for her infant son in the doorway of her Seddon home as the walls crumbled around her.

The 22-year-old was asleep when the magnitude 6.6 quake struck, after working the late shift as a chef.

She usually sleeps through quakes, but this one was much stronger than usual.

"It was just like a train coming through the place. Parts, flaky bits of the roof started falling on me. I couldn't hear my son and I was just standing, screaming in the doorway but it was all just falling around me.

"It was all coming down, giving way, so I tried to run outside but it was really hard to stand up because it was shaking so hard."

As she sprinted out the front door of the house she shares with her parents, Nicola and Russell, one of the brick chimneys fell metres from her.

Another chimney crashed onto the bed where she had been sleeping moments before.

Her mother was across the road with neighbours, and assured her everyone else was out of her house and her 19-month-old son, Quinn, was being taken for a walk.

"It was absolutely terrifying. The sound was unreal. The aftershocks have been just as terrifying because we don't know whether it's going to be another big one or not," she told the Weekend Herald.

Nicola Kerslake said her home, an 1874 heritage cottage made of cob, was "totalled".

"The earthquake shifted the house backwards and forwards and it's just cracked all the way through like a pavlova."

She said the cracks split the walls of the cottage and you could put your arm through them.

Mr Kerslake, a builder, had already inspected the property and thought there was too much structural damage for it to be repaired.

There had been hairline cracks in some of the walls after the 6.5 magnitude tremor on July 21.

"We've had quite a few aftershakes and I can see bits of cob coming out every time so I think that's it for the house, unfortunately," Nicola Kerslake said. "But everybody's safe and that's the main thing."

She was visiting her neighbours and from their back garden, she could see pine trees dropping into the Awatere River as the quake created a landslide into the waterway.

While Marlborough bore the brunt of yesterday's earthquakes, which were felt from Auckland to Christchurch, there have been no reported deaths or significant injuries.

In central Wellington traffic was jammed as thousands of residents tried to get home after the shakes.

Scientists last night said the tremors were likely to continue throughout the weekend.

For many in Seddon, the fear of those aftershocks was enough to make them flee their homes last night.

A Red Cross centre was set up at the local school giving residents a safe place to go if they did not want to stay home.

Civil Defence officials said most houses in Seddon Township had some damage, but most were still habitable. Two people were reported to have required medical attention after the quakes but they were for medical issues, rather than injuries.

The head of the local volunteer fire service, Kieran Hebberd, said the swarm of shakes was probably the worst the town had felt and most residents struggled to remain standing when they struck.

"There's houses that are falling down, roofs fallen down, chimneys fallen down," he said.

He said residents were "sick of the earthquakes, but what can you do, you can't prevent it."

They were instead making the most of their tight-knit community and supporting each other through the stress.

"They're country-folk, they do soldier on."

A councillor for the Wairau/Awatere ward, Peter Jerram, said there was a lot more obvious damage to buildings this time, including the local hotel, which was closed last night.

The Seddon church was also severely damaged and had several large holes in it.

Many roads in the area, including State Highway 1, were closed last night as some bridges had slumped.

"The great sadness is the knowledge that the rebuild or repairs will take a long time, so people will need a lot of support, in terms of food, warmth for homes, and belief that their town can be lived in for the future," said Mr Jerram.

Marlborough District Council staff will join Civil Defence team members in Seddon this morning to begin the job of assessing damage and assessing any welfare needs.


- Additional reporting: Teuila Fuatai

- NZ Herald

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