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NZealand quake refugees swap tales of survival

by Staff Writers
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 24, 2011
Earthquake refugees swapped tales of survival and loss at a packed shelter for those left homeless and destitute by the deadly tremor in New Zealand's second-biggest city.

The spartan accommodation at a school gymnasium, strewn with sleeping bags and blankets, provided little comfort to those who escaped with little more than their lives.

Up to 300 people found shelter at the hastily arranged welfare centre in Burnside High School, where neighbours did their best to provide food and clothing to those whose lives have been shattered.

Among them was Christchurch resident Sene, for whom a romantic seaside birthday celebration with his girlfriend turned into an apocalyptic nightmare when a deadly earthquake hit the city on Tuesday.

As his car shook uncontrollably during the 6.3 magnitude tremor, the 23-year-old thought the world was going to end and learned your life really does flash before your eyes when staring death in the face.

Sene, who declined to give his surname, had taken the day off work to be with his girlfriend and they were parked in an idyllic bay at Lyttelton, on the city's outskirts, when the quake struck, killing at least 76 people.

"It felt like the end of the world. I thought my car was going to break into pieces, and my life really flashed before my eyes," he told AFP.

"And the noise. It seemed like the hills were going to fall over. It was a nerve-wracking sound."

As he made his way to his home in the central city, Sene said he saw horrifying scenes of dazed and bleeding people fleeing in the other direction from the carnage in the inner city.

Aftershocks dislodged loosened masonry, which rained down on terrified residents who had run onto the street from packed in shops and offices.

"There were rocks everywhere, people were crying and bleeding. Then when I got home I found my place was pretty much destroyed."

Some at the centre gathered and swapped stories, while others sat silent and dazed as they stared into the distance. A group of children took shots at a basketball hoop in the school grounds.

Many had been still struggling to get back on their feet after suffering considerable loss and trauma in the 7.0 earthquake which hit Christchurch six months ago, damaging 100,000 buildings.

"I'm in an awfully distressed state," said Peter Kine, 70, who was forced to vacate his apartment.

"I didn't like the other one either, it was damn frightening.

"I was afraid for my life. I thought I was going to die."

Holly Phelan, 21, clutching her three-week-old baby told how she she staggered home from a shopping mall to find her house a mess and without electricity.

A neighbour heated up water on his barbeque so she could warm the baby's milk.

Holly was with her mother Diane Burke, who battled through cracked and congested roads to reach her daughter and granddaughter when her own home was destroyed.

"Everthing was on the floor at my place, the TVs were smashed and the place is structurally damaged. My whole life was in ruins and then when I saw Holly's place we came here."

They have now been forced to find alternative accommodation far north of Christchurch as the welfare centre, in a city still hit by power cuts, lacks the facilities for them to safely feed and care for the baby.

Like many people at the centre, Pat Lightowler and Nancy Lee moved into the refuge because they were too scared to stay in their homes alone.

"I feel traumatised," said Lee.

"I had just got out of my friend's car and was walking into my music lesson when it happened. Then the front of the building fell down. If I'd been any earlier I would have been caught in the building."

"I just though I was going to die," said Lightowler.

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Hopes for survivors fade in quake-hit Christchurch
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 24, 2011
A 'miracle' was required to find more survivors amid the wreckage of earthquake-hit Christchurch, Prime Minister John Key said Thursday, as the focus turned to recovering bodies. Two days after the 6.3-magnitude quake flattened buildings in New Zealand's second city, police said there had been no communication with people trapped inside the rubble for 24 hours, reducing the chances of findin ... read more

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