There is little doubt that Deirdre Cassidy’s guardian angel was shining down upon her on Tuesday, February 22. On that date a violent earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter Scale devasted her downtown Christchurch neighbourhood and its environs.
“It was an unbelievable stroke of luck. Myself and Michael (King) had decided to take a short holiday outside of Christchurch for a few days. We were eight hours away and just buying groceries in a supermarket when the lights started to shake. Even there we could feel it,” said Deirdre (30), a native of Dromard, speaking to the Leader from her home in Christchurch’s city centre district.
The quake, which to date has claimed 148 lives, was the second of its kind to hit the south New Zealand city in the last six months.
“Although we were prepared for what we were returning to, having seen it on television, we were still shocked,” said Deirdre, a former pupil of Moyne Community College. “We live in the city centre and our house had a red sticker on it, meaning it was condemned. Thankfully we have great neighbours and great landlords and we all worked together to get the building back to green (sticker) again.”
Deirdre, who is a nurse, joined her partner Michael (31) in Christchurch only six months ago. Michael, originally from Newtowncashel and a son of Ann and Michael King, is a former pupil of St. Mel’s College and a primary school teacher. Since the earthquake neither Deirdre or Michael have been able to work.
“I can’t get out to where I work. There are buildings and cars flattened all around us. Michael’s work is beside the Cathedral and that was really badly hit,” said Deirdre, a daughter of Peter and Joan Cassidy.
Work is, however, far from both of their minds as they come to terms with the devastation that surrounds them.
“We’re passing buildings every day and we know that there could be people trapped in them but they (the army and civil service) haven’t reached them yet. It’s really very shocking,” said Deirdre.
Describing the atmosphere in Christchurch, Deirdre believes that while it’s at a low ebb there is still a great community spirit.
“We have the best neighbours in the world here. We’re all in this together and we’re all pulling together. When some have electricity, they do the cooking. Sometimes others have running water,” she said. “However, it’s still quite a frightening environment. We’re living in a curfew of 6pm every night, so it’s really quiet here. Even this morning we had another aftershock that was quite strong. The first night we got back to Christchurch I found it hard to sleep, but we’re perfectly safe now.”
Looking forward to the future, Deirdre does not see Christchurch being rebuilt within the next six months.
“I would be very surprised if that happened,” she said. “I don’t see the city centre re-opening within that time. There is a hostel down the road from us and they haven’t even started searching it yet and there were definitely people trapped inside it. There is a lot of work to do here yet.”