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Of PTSD and how my cat changed my life - Part 1: how it all started

Aktualisiert: 15. Okt. 2022

In 2011 a devastatting earthquake struck the city of Christchurch in New Zealand. At the time I had lived and worked there for over six years. New Zealand had become my home.

Christchurch Cathedral, before the quake in 2011

22 February 2011.

It is a surprisingly cool summer morning, a little muggy, with an oppressively low blanket of clouds covering the usually clear sky. A light drizzle gently sprays my face as I head down Gloucester Street on my bicycle. It's the perfect weather for getting cosy inside with a cuppa or enjoying a quiet walk in Hagley Park. The kind of weather I like. And yet, a peculiar drifts through my mind as I am cycling towards my workplace in the city centre.

„Hope we don't get a big quake today.“

Peculiar, indeed, you may think.

Well, considering I live in a city that experienced two major earthquakes and several small aftershocks over the past six months it's not out of the ordinary to think these kind of thoughts.

The thought is peculiar though, as it comes out of nowhere and disappears back into oblivion as soon as I am done thinking. Only to reappear a couple of hours later, at 12.55pm, when a 6.9 earthquake hits and lays waste to the city I live in.

Dust, sirens and people. Lots of people gathering in the open area of the central city square, seeking refuge from collapsing buidlings and falling debris. People with wide eyes and pale faces, trying to understand what is happening. A pregnant woman consoles strangers, so that she does not go into labour. Several men in fine business suits are breaking down, sobbing uncontrollably.

Fear. Confusion. Shock.

The tall spire of the gothic Cathedral lies sprawled out on the ground in front of the proud stone building, the crumpled metal chairs now visibly sticking out of the top of what's still standing of the solid stone tower. „Like paper“, I think. The chairs look just like crumpled paper.

Another jolt in the ground rips a collective scream from the crowd. The small tower on the old Post Office building sways ominously, but it holds up. Some of our staff dash off down Colombo Street towards High Street to get out of the city. I decide to stay and wait.

Something inside me tells me that Colombo and High Street have been hit harder than the Square and I am not brave enough to face what I would find there. Later one of my colleagues tells me that she will never forget the bodies that have been pulled from the rubble, their faces covered with cardigans and other clothing items by the time she walks past. I am grateful I decided to stay in the Square and wait.

Yellow vests appear. Two council workers are guiding the shattered crowd to exit Cathedral Square via the North and East. Down Gloucester Street – the very street I rode in just a few hours ago. I almost do not recognise it now. The street is littered with rubble and big chunks of the building's facades, the sides are lined with squashed cars and more rubble. Nothing looks familiar anymore.