Nathanael Boehm living in New Zealand

My experiences moving to Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch quake: Could I have done more?

with 5 comments

I wandered around Richmond Mall this morning as people sat at tables drinking their coffee, laughing and carefree. I felt out of place; the normalcy of things up here in Nelson in contrast with the chaos of Christchurch is disturbing.

It’s been five days since the quake and for those who only experienced it by TV it’s fast becoming history yet for those who were caught up in the midst of it such as myself the quake still dominates our lives both physically and psychologically.

I am grateful that I wasn’t killed or injured by the 6.3 quake that hit Canterbury on 22 February and I’m certainly faring better than many others who have lost family and friends, limbs, their homes and jobs. There will be people who are haunted for the rest of their lives by the quake, who will jump every time a truck rolls by or who see bricks hurtling towards them whenever they close their eyes or whose lives are now empty having lost loved ones.

I reflect on my actions following the quake and think about how I could have done more to help those trapped under the rubble. I wonder if there might be people who would have lived if I had stayed behind in the city to help.

I don’t feel ashamed about what I did or didn’t do. Yes people needed help but there were specific people who needed my help and it was to their aid that I ran. After first checking that my partner Jenny was alive and safe by SMS I then ran down Cashel and Madras streets to the LeftClick office building to check that my colleagues were safe. I have no doubt that had they not all managed to evacuate the building that I would have gone in to help get them out. Luckily the building whilst seriously damaged had stayed standing and everyone was huddled on the sidewalk across the street.

Whilst running to be with my partner across town in Merivale I passed the unrecognisable pile of rubble that was the CTV building. A few people were crawling over the wreckage trying to find survivors. I paused for a moment, considering helping out but once again I knew that while any survivors needed people my partner Jenny needed me personally and so I continued to run until my shaking legs ached and my throat was parched by concrete dust and then walked the rest of the 4km in a wide circle around the CBD to our apartment on Carlton Mill Road.

I also am not ashamed to admit that I wanted to save my own life. I am not ready to die and even once the initial quake had finished the city was far from safe. Buildings became death traps and skyscrapers became weapons, threatening to wipe out entire city blocks. I did not feel at all safe until I was on Bealey Avenue away from all buildings.

But in my many moments of pondering the events of Tuesday I still think about what I could have done differently and whether my actions were cowardly, especially in light of the TV footage and stories of those who selflessly dove into the rubble within seconds of the quake to haul people out.

I don’t expect anyone to condemn or reassure me although I am confident you will want to and for those whom will respond with the latter I certainly appreciate it. You weren’t there, you can’t put yourselves in my shoes. You can’t emulate the overwhelming sense of terror and the undeniable knowledge of impending death as buildings topple and shatter. This is just something I have to deal with and to come to terms with. If I went through it again would I do things differently now that I’ve had a chance to reflect?

Read my full account of the quake in my previous blog post. Also, we found out a week after the quake that our apartment building has been given a red sticker, meaning it has been deemed unsafe to enter.


Written by Nathanael Coyne

27 February, 2011 at 10:34 am

Posted in Living in NZ

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. This reminds me of a saying I’ve heard (& can’t remember the source, sorry): you can do anything in life, but you can’t do everything. Every choice we make has an opportunity cost, it’s just that it’s rarely a life or death situation. I’d never condemn anyone for the choices they make in the moment of disaster – there just isn’t a clear and shining path to tell us what to do in times like that.


    27 February, 2011 at 11:19 am

  2. I agree with Stringy. While I haven’t experienced an earthquake, I have lived through other situations that have taught me that there is never a clear choice & instinct kicks in to survive then to protect your loved ones.

    During the 2003 bushfires, we chose to stay & fight, together with our next door neighbour. If the wind had not suddenly changed toward Curtin, I’m now pretty sure we may not have survived but we had to make a choice under frightening conditions. Right or wrong, we make the best choices at the time.


    27 February, 2011 at 12:44 pm

  3. Caronne’s right, once instinct kicks in you barely have any time to reflect on anything.

    Whatever we do in those moments, is who we are, and you can’t really change that. What you did was hustle your ass off to take care of those you loved and you didn’t ease off the throttle until you knew they were safe.

    I’m pretty happy you guys’re safe and others I know there are too. That’s enough for me.


    28 February, 2011 at 12:02 am

  4. You did what the situation dictated at the time. No one can every question your choices. You ensured those you love and your colleagues where okay and didn’t put yourself in harms way. You can’t ask more than that. It’s very easy for some people to analyse the event after the fact. You have to make choices at the time under extreme conditions. They where the right choices because you made them, then and there.

    Time to start looking forward.

    Gary Barber

    28 February, 2011 at 5:35 pm

  5. I totally agree with what has been said here, you did what you thought was the best thing to do at the time, and you should not second guess yourself for doing so.

    You may, however, be feeling some ‘survivor guilt’ which is very common after such an event where lives are lost. Just make sure you talk to someone about it, if it starts to be the predominant theme in your thoughts. Same goes for dealing with the images you may see when closing your eyes.

    We can’t even begin to imagine what you have been through, and just wish you all the very best for getting things sorted and back to ‘normal’. You have already demonstrated your strength and tenacity in other aspects of your life, and will no doubt do so again :)


    28 February, 2011 at 11:21 pm

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