Sis­ters con­tinue quake zone lives

Matamata Chronicle - - News - By LAURA MCLEAY

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.

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