Christchurch earthquake – one very personal insight

A friend from NZ shared the following email that he recieved from someone who is an ambulance officer in Christchurch.  It is a very personal view of his experiences;

Subject: [nzfire] 22 February 2011

  I dont know where to start.  I havent seen any media, I dont know the strength of the main quake or even where it was.

 
I was sitting down studying when the quake hit.  My weighted down plasma screen went first and exploded.  I tried to stand up and was thrown to the ground.  Everything fell/broke all around me.
 
I checked on the neighbours, threw everything I could think of into the car with the dogs and went to work.  All the roads were devastation.  It took me 45 mins to travel 7kms to city station flashing my lights and hazards. The new city station is condemned and inundated with over a foot of mud.  There were just a handful of us there initially and we travelled in convoy to an MCI triage centre in Latimer Square.  On the way we saw utter devastation cars that were obviously occupied totally flatted, obvious deaths.  Thankfully a medical conference was on nearby meaning when we got to the square there was excellent co-ordination.  Bodies were being piled up in one corner and as one of the higher qualified officers on scene I was given a status 2 patient to assess.  She had fallen from the top of the CTV building to the ground.  After a nightmare drive to hospital we returned to Latimer square where more and more resources were arriving.  I then became a triage officer deciding who was saveable and who wasnt.  At the same time CTV was burning just in front of me and was being wate rbombed as there was no reticulation – more and more fire appliances from further and further away kept arriving.  It was unbelievable with the smoke, flame, alarms, sirens, helicopters and screams.  The church opposite then collapsed following a large aftershock narrowly missing a number of fire and ambulance vehicles.  Drugs were at a premium.  Patients were arriving from everywhere.  We were not allowed into the cordons despite pleas from bystanders.  People were dragged out, carried out on doors, shutters.  I ended up assisting the doctors as a treatment officer, most injuries were severe massive crush injuries.  The smoke from CTV was so bad we were nearly evacuated several times.  Police were letting family members inside the cordons to approach us to ask about their mum, their dad, their brother etc who was in the cordon and especially the CTV building.  I kept rotating through roles until I was tasked to crew a transport ambulance.  After a while we went mobile and heard a call come in for an unknown incident in Cambridge Terrace.  I responded us and as we tried to make our way through the broken buildings and streets a report came through that there were multiple trapped.
 
On arrival I later discovered that this was the PGG building.  A foot crew had arrived on scene some four hours earlier and had been trying to manage with minimal resources and no comms.  No-one knew they were there.  They had already experienced horrific sights you could not imagine.  They went up into the destroyed building (until later withdrawn).  One held a man, gave him his cellphone so he could ring his wife.  He told her he loved her then died.  Another colleague was faced with a horribly entrapped man.  There was no way he could be saved and while we watched on hopelessly and helplessly he received a lethal dose of drugs to end his horrible suffering.
 
We were the only road vehicle there initially and hopelessly underresourced.  Our first patient brought out was a beautiful 20 year old girl.  Her spine had been shattered she was contorted horribly and was paralysed.  She was in irreversible shock and lost consciousness as we went.  I fought so hard with a surgeon to keep her alive.  She didnt make it..  Patients were brought out straight into our vehicle and driven straight to hospital doing whatever we could on the way.  Our last patient had been pinned for some time by his legs.  Crews from Addington and St Albans together with two Brontos did every damn thing they could to get him out.  In the end a surgeon had to amputate both legs using mainly FS tools.  We waited desperately to get him into the vehicle.  I drove as fast as I could on appaling roads that we later could not return on.  He died as we arrived at hospital.  In the meantime another man had been pinned by his legs by a massive beam.  We arranged to uplift all the necessary drugs to prevent crush syndrome.  WHen we returned he had died.  We worked into the night but the flow of patients diminished.  Patients were either critical or walked out.  More resources arrived as I tried to explain the nature of the entrapment over the disjointed radio.  I didnt realise there were so many other scenes not just mine around the city.  The rain started and we were replaced.  I wanted to stay but by now was purely working automatically.  We returned to the Square to sign out and I got taken back to my car which by now was surrounded by liquifaction.  I returned home briefly to gather some more things and then went to a friends house in Oxford.  It took me two hours to drive across the city.  My friend has a new earthquake proof house on isolated pads, solar power and generator and artesian water.  Despite only feeling one aftershock I didnt sleep.  I cant stay there any more as I feel I am imposing.
 
I went back to work the next day.  Abandoned South City mall carpark is full of liquifaction but our base.  We had 38 ambulances working at the start of the day, I believe with the arrival of all the Wellington Free and Southern ambulances we got to 45 or 46.  80 further staff from all over the country were brought in.  The day was spent going to patients who had been trapped unfound since the initial quake, our HQ building is unsafe as is our comms building.  Comms staff have been flown to Auckland.  Dispatch would call jobs over the radio and the closest truck would grab it.  Most bridges in the eastern part of the city are impassable.  There was only 1 bridge open and some streets are completely inaccessable due to liquifiaction.  You simply cant drive or walk in the stuff.  Again we were ordered off the road – I needed to keep working.  My beloved dogs were being looked after by complete strangers I didnt even know where they were.  I have been ordered to stay away today, our roles are being filled by exisiting rostered staff and ring ins.  The idea is so we can spend time with our families etc but I have none and instead am sitting in a house surrounded by glass and fire and ambulance books strewn around the house.  One dog wont even come inside the house.  Aftershocks are continual.  I am told I have appeared on TV several times.  I dont know I dont care.  I went to fill up this am in Rangiora and had to wait 15 mins.  In Belfast the queues for petrol were over 2kms long.  At the supermarket people were fighting over food and space at the checkout.
 
I honestly dont want to be at home.  My dogs are my prime concern, if I could get them safe I would be happier.  I dont really want to live in ChCh any more but cant and wont quit my job.  I want to be at work now.  I am meant to fly to Wellington on Tuesday for a course.  That may or may not have been cancelled.  NO-one will say.  No-one will look after the dogs anyway.
 
Maybe I will feel better soon.  I dont think we could have done anything differently.  I am proud of what I did I just feel numb. I got 1 hours sleep last night.
 
I am sorry to unload on you all.  I dont know what the next few days will bring or if/when I will get access again.
 
Thank you everyone for your messages and concern. 
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