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Victims of the Christchurch earthquake share their stories.

IT'S HARD WHEN YOU ARE ALONE

Dorothy Lilley wasn't going to let a 7.1 magnitude earthquake and a damaged home separate her from her most treasured possessions - including her husband's ashes.

The 81-year-old yesterday returned to her home in Bexley - one of Christchurch's hardest-hit suburbs - with the help of two police officers to get her husband Ted's ashes and her jewellery.

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She had stayed with relatives of her cousin, who came from Blenheim to see her after the quake, but they returned home yesterday morning. Mrs Lilley waited at the Linwood High School welfare centre until she could be helped home.

"I was having a cup of tea and the Father talked to me for a while," she said as Police Sergeant Julie Fifield and Senior Constable Neill Williams escorted her back home for the first time since the earthquake.

She has lived alone since her husband died from a heart attack six years ago and wanted to get home "to get my valuables" before going to her sister's.

Her house was still standing but had damage including a broken chimney. Of more concern was the sunken ground and pathway, potentially leaving the house unstable.

Despite the grim scene Mrs Lilley was happy to get "Teddy's" ashes back and was looking forward to staying with her sister in Cashmere and celebrating her 82nd birthday on Sunday.

The earthquake was terrifying, she said. "It's hard when you are alone. It was pitch black and there was this terrible, rumble, rumble, rumble. It was so frightening."

She could hear the bricks from the chimney crashing down and thought the roof might collapse too.

After the shaking stopped she went outside on to the patio in her pyjamas and looked around at the flooding.

"There was a sea of water, it was a heck of a muck."

The strain had taken its toll but she was feeling a lot better yesterday.

She was grateful to the police for helping her home. "They are wonderful, really, they're there if you need them."

HOME DETAINEE ... BUT NO HOME

Anthony Bond slept in rubble for two days until his brother came to get him.

Mr Bond was serving home detention for drink-driving when the earthquake hit - and he thought he would be arrested if he left his collapsed house.

The shock of the earthquake sent a chimney crashing into his bedroom, and his house became piled up with loose bricks.

But Mr Bond could not leave - he thought Corrections would lock him up. No one from the department came to check so he stayed put, sleeping on a dusty, freezing kitchen floor, trying to keep warm by wearing every jersey he owned.

Two days later, his brother came to check and took him to Addington Raceway's emergency shelter. But it has not been easy there, either.

Mr Bond is agoraphobic and the large hall makes him nervous. "It's better than being by yourself and dying by yourself anyway," he said.

Pictures of Mr Bond's three children are pinned on the wall behind his mattress. His house will be pulled down, and he has nowhere to go.

"I don't know what to do. Where do you start to sort things out? I've got no furniture, no nothing," Mr Bond said.

But at least he had his children's photographs, he said. "Everything can be replaced except for those.

"The emotions are starting to play on people. I think that's going to be the biggest after-effect."

THROWN AROUND LIKE TOOTHPICKS

The Christchurch earthquake is the second time Tracy Bain has been in a major disaster, and she recognises the scars of fresh trauma.

In 1979, when she was 14, Ms Bain's house and neighbourhood were destroyed by the Abbotsford landslide in Dunedin. She had to stay in a shelter for months with just a small bag of belongings.

"I know it takes a long time to get over it. The trauma sticks," she said. She still had the occasional flashback from the landslide 20 years later - and now it was happening again.

She is bumped and bruised from being "thrown around like toothpicks" in Saturday's earthquake.

She remembers the initial shaking but cannot remember how she ended up outside her house, standing on her front lawn, shivering.

She went to Addington Raceway's welfare centre that night, too agitated to sleep at home.

Frequent aftershocks this week brought back flashes of Saturday morning, she said.

It was a familiar feeling, but having gone through it before made it only a little easier.

"At least I'm better than my partner. He's a mess," she said.

Four days after the earthquake, Ms Bain felt less afraid, but she was exhausted.

"I'm very tired, but I'm calmer now. I'm eating more, and I'm smiling more," she said.

But it would be a long time before she felt normal again, she said.

Ms Bain works as a kitchen assistant in a dormitory at St Margaret's College and cannot wait to get back to work.

The distraction would help her get on with life, she said.

'I STILL DON'T SLEEP'

A 19-year-old's hands still shake whenever she tries to sleep, even with the comfort of Red Cross staff on hand.

Sarah McElroy has been staying at Addington Raceway's welfare centre since early Sunday morning, when an aftershock finally made things too much for her and her 15-year-old sister.

The teenage girls tried to brave their first night after the Christchurch earthquake in their cracked home by sleeping together in the lounge.

Even when their mother and uncle joined them, the repeated aftershocks startled them and they could not fall asleep.

Arriving at the emergency centre in the dark, the teenage girls found they could immediately relax.

But by their third night there, the girls were once again unable to sleep.

"I tried to draw to distract myself, but my hands shook.

"I'm still freaked out and shaking when I try to sleep," Miss McElroy said.

"Last night I didn't sleep at all."

She had met many people and much preferred the centre to her house, but it was hard to find comfort during the nights.

"If I can stop shaking, I'll be so much better," Miss McElroy said.

"But we still get so many aftershocks, and the hardest thing is waiting and thinking it's going to start all over again."

Miss McElroy wants to stay at the shelter as long as possible.

'WE ARE TOGETHER, WE DON'T NEED TO WORRY'

A collection of mattresses in a crowded raceway function centre is not ideal for Lala Martin and her seven children - but it beats where she came from.

"I feel safer here. I'll stay here as long as I can," Ms Martin says.

Ms Martin was at home in the suburb of Dallington with her children and partner Rongo when Saturday's quake hit. Mud and sand started "gushing like a waterfall" from cracks in the ground. "It felt like we were in a waterfall, but in a boat."

The family's rented house has now sunk and has mud inside it.

Ms Martin and her family fled to a welfare centre at Linwood High School on Saturday and stayed there until arriving at the Addington centre on Monday night.

Including other relatives whose homes were also damaged in the quake, 31 of Ms Martin's family are now at the Addington centre.

The children, aged 8 months to 12, had been kept occupied with entertainment provided by volunteers.

Ms Martin has no idea whether she will be able to return to her family's rented home. But she is grateful she and her family are still alive.

"We are all together ... so we don't need to worry any more."

'WE HAVE TO GET OUT'

A young family of five was forced to move to an emergency shelter after a home they were evacuated to sank in an aftershock.

Amorangi and Harley Hobson and their three young children left their fractured house to stay with Mrs Hobson's mother, who has been living alone for two years after her husband died of cancer.

But that house started to sink, and eventually the family decided it was uninhabitable.

They reluctantly moved to the Addington centre.

The Hobsons said the centre was great, but they did not want to stay for another day - they needed a family home.

"We're tired today, because last night wasn't that great. We were up and down all night.

"Our baby was woken up after every shock because we have them pretty bad in here," Mrs Hobson said.

The family were sorting through things little by little and Mrs Hobson could not help but feel concerned about the future.

"We're expecting the worst still. Sometimes I think it's just too hard, with three children, especially with the baby," she said.

The couple have applied to Housing New Zealand for accommodation, but they do not know what priority they have been given on a very long waiting list.

"Hopefully we can get out of here, not because of the people but to get our lives back on track," Mrs Hobson said.

"There's a lot of panic here. I can't blame them, and I'm just grateful we can be here.

"But we like to have our own space. There's nothing like home sweet home."

Sunday had been the hardest day. "That was a struggling time for us. It was really bad because everyone was so shaken up and we didn't know whether to leave or stay."

PREGNANT AND HOMELESS

Jennel Hopkinson is 26 weeks pregnant and has been sleeping in a crowded welfare centre since Saturday.

The 20-year-old's pregnancy affords her an airbed but she admits to growing a "little restless".

"I sort of woke up feeling uncomfortable this morning. Some days are better than others, really."

The major aftershocks late on Monday night and early yesterday had been nerve-wracking, and her baby gave her a few kicks.

"We had a few people crying. It scared them quite a lot."

Miss Hopkinson's rented home in Upper Riccarton has major cracks in the ceiling "and we didn't feel safe, just for the fact that it could come down any moment.

"The Housing New Zealand people have gone and had a look and they said I had to get some other accommodation sorted out."