Sisters continue quake zone lives
Battling aftershocks, Xanthe Johnson ran, blinded by tears, through the damaged streets of Christchurch central business district towards the university where she knew her sister Courteney would be.
‘‘It was like a terrorism attack – like we were in a war.’’
She had been at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology campus in Christchurch when the 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit on February 22.
The bus she travelled on into town that morning was one of two crushed by falling buildings where many lost their lives.
After running for 40 minutes non-stop, she found her sister.
Courteney said the university campus looked like a wave had rolled through it.
‘‘At the time, I thought it was just another aftershock. I started walking to my next class, then we were told to evacuate.
‘‘I never thought that people would have died.
‘‘How could so many people die in just 20 seconds?’’ she said.
As the Matamata Chronicle went to print, 166 had been reported dead – a number that has left the nation in a state of shock. Christchurch and surrounding towns continue to be rattled with aftershocks as the clean-up continues.
Xanthe and Courteney are now back safe in their Matamata family home – thankful they are together and came through the earthquake unscathed.
Their personal belongings are mostly undamaged and their flats still in reasonable conditions.
But they admitted they were still in shock and the reality of it had not settled in. Everyday noises – a rattling window, a creaking house – set their nerves off again.
‘‘It makes you panic inside that maybe it is going to happen all over again,’’ said Courteney.
They have spent the past two weeks watching what happened unfold on the news and Courteney said they still shed a few tears but this time they were tears for those who were hurt, not for themselves.
Xanthe was in her second day at polytechnic studying nursing when the earthquake hit while Courteney was in her second day of civil engineering studies at Canterbury University along with thousands of other students.
‘‘Everyone is affected by this. We are sitting here waiting, knowing that one day we will hear the news that a friend knows someone who has not made it.
‘‘ We know it will happen eventually. In Christchurch, everyone knows everybody,’’ Courteney said. ‘‘It is a horrible event but it is also so amazing what everyone is doing to help.’’
Both Xanthe and Courteney are being optimistic about the quake and not letting the terror of it deter them from going back to the place they now call home – much to their parents’ dismay.
They agreed that the earthquake had hurt their parents more than it had hurt them.
‘‘Mum just panicked,’’ Xanthe said.
‘‘She was just devastated and hysterical and I know she is very nervous for us going back.’’
Xanthe said that because she was not physically hurt, she had the strength to go back and continue her nursing studies.
‘‘I want to be able to help people. That is why I am getting into nursing.’’ Courteney is also keen to fly back down but she has changed her mind about civil engineering.
‘‘After seeing this earthquake – I could not live with myself if I had built one of those buildings that people died in.
‘‘ My heart is not in studying it.’’
She plans to continue a science degree she started in 2009 but said even that decision was still a bit up in the air.
They hope to go back in the next few weeks but, in the meantime, they are trying to come to grips with what really happened and spend time with their family.
Sisters Courteney Johnson, 20, left, and Xanthe, 19, are happy to be back home together and safe after the Christchurch earthquake rattled their surroundings.