The radio reported a large earthquake in Christchurch when I was about half an hour away from the city.
There was no mention of the airport, where I was headed. I carried on, seeing nothing unusual until I reached my destination just as people were being evacuated. I turned round and joined the long, slow procession of vehicles heading south, listening with growing concern to National Radio.
I stopped at the Caltex petrol station a few kilometres from the airport to buy water but the power was out and the staff member said they couldn’t sell anything.
Traffic lights were out but drivers were calm and courteous, moving slowly and giving way to others to allow vehicles to keep moving through the intersection.
The BP station near Rolleston was crowded. A woman ahead of me in the queue was shaking and fighting tears. A young man said he’d only got out of Halswell because he had a four wheel drive vehicle.
As I waited for a gap in the traffic to allow me back on the road a bus drove past in the opposite direction, it’s driver clasping a cell phone to his ear and apparently oblivious to the fire engine trying to pass him, siren blaring and lights flashing.
I heeded the request to keep off the phone until I got to Darfield, rang my farmer to report in. He’d been talking to someone on the eighth floor of the Forsyth Barr building in the centre of Christchurch as the quake struck, he heard loud screams then the phone disconnected.
It took several tries and a long wait on hold, to get through to Air New Zealand.
Flights are expected to resume this evening but the only seat they could guarantee me was early tomorrow – the last on the flight. I was going up to Wellington for a meeting but it’s not essential for me to be there. I chose to leave the seat for someone whose need might be more urgent.
I am now heading home, counting my blessings and thinking of the people on Christchurch who may not have homes to go to, the ones who are injured, the ones who’ve been killed.
If there’s a lucky time to have an earthquake it was in the early hours of the morning when the September one struck. Today Christchurch’s luck ran out.