Bruce Ansley, a Christchurch writer and temporary evacuee, wonders if the future city of Christchurch will have a shape but no soul.
At five minutes to one on that awful Tuesday, four minutes after the earthquake, I was racing down four flights of stairs convinced that all four storeys would collapse.
Across a neatly kept quadrangle, through a cloistered entrance, out onto Colombo St, central Christchurch.
A huge pall of dust rose like smoke, blotting out the city centre.
Ten minutes, 15.
Then a woman emerged from the storm, pale as a ghost. She was covered in dust.
One of her legs was muddy and bloodied. She carried a briefcase. She walked past looking straight ahead, without a word from either side.
Someone else followed, then another, until there was a procession trudging out of the city, most of them silent, some giving snippets in headlines: "Cathedral's down" or far worse, "I saw bodies".
Even amid this spectacle I noticed something odd.
All along the street, buildings were cracked or falling down.
Yet the one I'd come from, St Mary's apartment building, was intact.
Beside me a voice said, "It's designed for worse".
It was Peter Beaven, the venerable architect, who both designed the apartment complex and lived in it.
The building, he said, had been engineered to withstand disasters such as this.
"It's perfectly safe," he assured us.
Two days later, Prime Minister John Key stood in front of the Christchurch Art Gallery and its great glass curtain. Could buildings withstand such a quake? He waved towards the curtain. Not a pane was smashed.
The architect and the politician made the same point: well-designed buildings would survive.
This gentle, benign city is broken, but not beyond repair.
It will never be restored to the way it was.
Gerry Brownlee, the Earthquake Recovery Minister, and under the new earthquake law Master of the Universe here, insists upon "junking the dungas" - those old buildings many here regard as the city's soul.
To underscore his point, a few days later an ancient Sydenham church was demolished without telling its owner, a heritage trust, or seeking any formal consent. Some wondered whether we should be joining hands around the Cathedral.
Statues of city founders John Robert Godley and William Rolleston were knocked down by the quake.
Their collapse was symbolic - the model English city they envisaged is gone. As the dust clears, a curious euphoria has arisen.
The indomitable Ballantynes, not so much a department store as a way of life in this town, declared itself immovable.
Groups of architects, engineers and officials are already being formed to shape a new Christchurch. One is organised by architects Warren and Mahoney which, probably more than any other organisation, has shaped this city.
Visions are appearing like holograms.
Peter Townsend, head of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, talked alluringly of a new centre already on the drawing-board, a low-rise central business district based around a series of parks.
Low-rise buildings will not be a problem. Many workers are vowing never to set foot in a high-rise again, and some predict that under stringent new earthquake standards small buildings will be all that investors can afford.
And given the quake, plus Gerry Brownlee, there will be plenty of vacant space for the parks.
City leaders are talking of "the most beautiful city in the world".
Christchurch was not working well before the quakes.
Some of its streets were full of empty buildings turning to takeaways and tat for survival. A suburban ring of St Lukes-type shopping malls was sucking out its life.
Christchurch needed a shake-up, although not shake-ups of magnitude 7.1 and 6.3. The outcome of this debate is crucial to many of us.
Our hopes and dreams, our lives, hang on its outcome.
More than 70,000 people have left the city since February 22. I am one of them.
The real question is how many will go back. I want to be one of those too. This city has grown me and my family from childhood, nurtured us through good education, health, housing, given us heart and strength.
To me it was the best place in the world to live.
But a low-rise, cheaply built urban desert will mean the end for many of us.
At present, we are a tale of three cities. The centre city is cordoned off. Talking about future shape seems treacherous while dozens of bodies lie under the rubble of the city they plan to rebuild.
In the east, people struggle to cope without power or water or sewerage, excavating ruined houses from tonnes of silt and queuing for Port-a-loos.
They are in no shape at all.
The west is another world. There, people sit in cafes and mow their verges.
They don't irritate. Instead they are reassuring. Only a few kilometres from the worst of the carnage, life goes on as normal.
This city was thought to be safe from earthquakes. The fault causing them was previously unknown, and the Alpine Fault too far away.
As a friend remarked, what is the sense of fault lines if earthquakes won't follow them?
Christchurch shows that nowhere is safe.
The September 4 quake destroyed some buildings. The latest one was so ruinous that urban planners start with a blank canvas.
A new city will emerge. Christchurch has the chance to be New Zealand's second biggest city in a grander sense. We hope for the best.