A man in the Kohimarama apartment block hit by a landslide has described how residents clawed at the rubble in a panic trying to find a man they thought had been buried.
Craig Jones, 45, was alone in Unit 7 on the ground floor of the San Remo Apartments when the cliff behind the block collapsed at 8pm yesterday.
"I heard a thud. I thought someone had knocked on the door so I started to walk down to the door," he said today.
"I got to within about 5m of it. Then it absolutely burst open, it literally exploded in. The mud came pouring in. I got knocked over.
"It just sounded like a freight train, it was just a phenomenal sound.
"I was lucky I only got knocked over. It didn't go right over my entire body, so I had a lucky escape. If I had been closer to the door, it could have come down on top of me and I would have got smothered."
Jones' first thought was for his neighbours.
"I just ran out with my cellphone and my wallet," he said.
"I was just climbing out through the debris to the one [neighbour] we thought was buried, picking away at the rubble to see if he was there.
"He had gone out at short notice because one of his friends had a home invasion in Remuera. He was halfway through the washing when he left. We banged on his door but he was nowhere to be found.
"That's why the panic went up. We had an unlocked unit with the washing half-done and the TV on, so we thought he had been buried outside."
Jones called 111 and said the first fire engine arrived within five to eight minutes.
"They did a terrific job," he said.
He said all the residents in the block knew each other and everyone helped to look for the missing man.
"We tried his mobile. He didn't answer," he said.
"The police finally tracked him down. He turned up 45 minutes to an hour after it happened. I think someone alerted him to what had happened and he came back."
Jones said the landslide was "a combination of mud and trees, branches and building supplies".
"The convent up behind us, when it was built they pushed all their remaining building supplies over the edge of the embankment: glass windows, reinforcing steel, asbestos sheets, bits of timber."
He said he had the cliff checked by an engineer before he bought his unit nine years ago and was told it was stable.
"It was a case of the water events that we've had over the past month and the fact that it was so heavy," Jones said.
"It was such localised heavy rain. It was like a monsoon. Yet 300 or 400m up the road it didn't seem to be raining that heavily. It bucketed down torrentially for probably two hours before the slip. It was actually water as much as anything else."
Amazingly, the concrete retaining walls behind the apartment block were unscathed, but water poured down over the top of them.
"It was like a stream was created, it just pretty much overtopped all the retaining walls."
Jones said the building's body corporate lodged a claim for compensation with the Earthquake Commission this morning. He did not know when residents would be able to return.
"It will be a full clean-up job. There is mud right through the units," he said.
"If the building can be retained and everything is good to go, I'll go back. I wouldn't [want to] go. I love the area."