By Zara Potts


It is 12.51 pm when the earthquake strikes.

I have just finished my coffee, am halfway through a toasted sandwich and my girlfriend has just asked me how my day has been.

As I start to answer, I feel a slight rattle. Then a sideways jolt. The floor shifts, then everything explodes.

I am sitting in front of floor-to-ceiling glass panels. As they blow out behind me, my brain finally registers that this is an earthquake. A big one. Instinct kicks in and I leap for the door. I don’t even think to cover my head with my hands, but somehow I notice that I am bleeding and wonder how this is.

I don’t notice that I have fallen to my knees down the concrete steps or that someone has run over my thigh in their panic to get out. I pull myself up and stumble out onto the shaking street. I trip again on my four-inch heels as the buildings around me start to collapse.

There is masonry flying. There are piles of bricks in the road. There is dust swarming. There is the shrill shatter of glass smashing. There are people screaming. I have never seen anything like it. The street I am on I have known all my life, but I can’t recognise it.

The ground moves and moves and moves. It feels like it will never stop.

But it does.

The screaming, however, doesn’t, and the alarms begin to match their cries.

I am so shocked I cannot make a noise. I stagger back to the cafe and find my friend. She is inside. I shout at her to come outside. She comes toward me and grabs me hard. I start to shake. We link arms and stumble down the road.

“Was this bigger than the 7.1 in September?” I ask her repeatedly. It is somehow crucial to me that I know this.

“Yes,” she replies. “Much bigger.”

I am strangely relieved. I can’t bear to imagine that there could be anything worse than this.

It’s like a disaster movie set. It doesn’t feel real. There are people crying and dazed walking by us. I realise I am one of them. As we walk among the rubble, Amanda tries to convince me to walk with her. I refuse. All I can think about is getting back to work so I can tell my boss that I am taking the rest of the day off.

Amanda leaves me reluctantly and as soon as she disappears into the crowd, I want desperately for her to come back. Instead I head for my workplace and see my colleagues gathering by the river. They are crying and shocked and trying desperately to use their phones. They see my blood and make me sit down.

I sit and someone places chocolate in my mouth. I feel like I am going to vomit. I look around and see that I am sitting opposite the police station. I see policemen filing out of the station, horror stricken.

I look at them and it frightens me to see that they are as scared as I am.

Without warning, the ground jolts again. It comes with a rumble and breaks up the road in front of us, pushing the asphalt into a hard, broken ridge.

The river is rising. The city is falling.

I am now horribly aware that I am not safe. I am not safe anywhere. Amongst hundreds of equally terrified people, I am alone. I know at this moment I have to get out of the city.

I take off my boots and start to walk.

I look at my socks and am absurdly glad that they match. They are my favourite socks, black cotton with love hearts.

As I walk, I see remnants of buildings I have known since I was a child. They are crumpled. Shattered. Collapsed. Glass carpets the streets.

There are bloodied bodies lying on the riverbank. I barely glance at them. I am resolute in my walking. I head for the park, trying to find a safe place. The park is full of people, looking at the broken skyline as the earth beneath their feet turns to liquid mud.

I try to cross a road and am turned back. I don’t know what to do. I want to walk on but I am terrified the ground will shake again. I don’t know which route to take. I think I hear someone calling my name, so I turn and see an old boyfriend, whom I haven’t seen for decades. I run to him and he hugs me tight. He feels like an angel.

I look down the road to the centre of the city. For over a hundred years, the cathedral has stood tall in the square, a proud icon of the city, beloved to all its children. Its mighty steeple has fallen. The heart of the city has collapsed. My mind will not accept what my eye is seeing.

“The cathedral, Zak โ€”” I say, pointing at what I cannot describe.

“I know,” he says. “Let’s walk.”

He takes my hand and carries my boots and we start to walk out of the city. We pass collapsed buildings that have pancaked in on themselves. We know there are people trapped. We try not to look, knowing that people are dead just metres away, crushed among the broken steel and splintered concrete bones of their workplace.

We walk down streets that have been torn open. Cars are beginning to jam and there are clouds of dust rising up from the city behind us, while the potent smell of gas swirls in the air.

We walk and walk and walk. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t.

I can only think of my dog and my family and friends. I don’t know if any of them are alive. My cell phone won’t connect, and the only practical thing I can do right now is walk.

We pass people sitting on their lawns, afraid to be inside their homes. They have no power, no water, no words. We tell them what we have seen and they tell us of lost pets, broken homes and missing children.

I can only feel fear. It courses through me along with adrenaline. I feel like I am trying to escape an invisible monster. I don’t know when it will reappear. I don’t know where it will reappear.

I want a cigarette, but I know I am on the very fine edge of panic and my brain tells me that I need every bit of air I can get. My cigarettes stay in my bag.

Finally my cell phone beeps. I check it and see messages of concern that I cannot reply to. I try and try to get a dial tone to call my mother who is safely in another city. I finally connect and it goes to answerphone. I somehow make my voice calm. I tell her that I am okay. I tell her there’s been an earthquake, but not to worry.

As I hang up, the phone rings immediately. It is my mother. Her voice is cracking as she breaks down across the line.

“I thought you were dead,” she cries.

“I thought I was too,” I say, tears flowing freely.

She tells me to wait in the car park that we are walking across. She tells me she is organising for someone to come and rescue us.

Zak and I sit on the concrete of the empty car park. There is a building behind us with a whole side missing. The car park is eerily quiet, apart from the ever-present alarms wailing their distress.

All of a sudden, the earth moves again. It rolls under us and we leap to our feet as a multi-storied car park comes crashing to the ground behind us. The ground swells under us and the noise is unbearable.

We can’t stay here, so we begin to walk again. At least it feels like we are doing something. No cars are getting through, so we know our rescue won’t be coming.

As we walk, the ground thuds beneath us. We zigzag across the roads, hoping to outrun the next jolt, taking care to avoid holes, power lines and deep wounds in the earth’s crust.

Zak has a wife and three babies he is desperate to get home to. He has a business he knows is likely destroyed. I am amazed at his kindness and calmness as we walk on, towards God knows what. I cannot imagine what he is going through. I am just immensely grateful he is with me.

We are walking faster than the cars that are crawling along beside us. Everywhere we look, cars have been abandoned as shell-shocked people leave them on the side of the road to take their chances on foot to try and get home to their loved ones.

We walk over the road between the city’s sewerage ponds. The air is thick with flies, the tar is stretched liked chewing gum between the broken seal on the road. There are deep fissures here and my heart is beating faster, acutely aware that another quake could split the unsteady road and swallow us up. We are quiet as we cross the ponds.

In the distance, I hear my name being called. It is Bon, my mother’s oldest friend, come to find me. She has a severely injured leg and is riding a bicycle. She has ridden over uneasy ground and broken bridges to find me. She sobs when she sees me.

She offers Zak her bike and he rides off to find his family. I am at a loss how to thank him; all I can offer him is a wave as he leaves.

Bon and I stumble towards home. She has rescued my dog, she tells me, and has locked her safely in her van. I relax just a little, just a heartbeat, for the first time in hours. We clamber over a broken bridge and begin to wade through dirty water, slick with sewerage and rising steadily above our knees.

My love heart socks are wearing thin and I can feel my feet tearing up with stone bruises. I know that under the water, the ground has opened and with every step I take, I close my eyes and hope desperately not to disappear into a hole.

The road beneath the water feels brittle like candy coating. I can hear my footsteps echo on what was, just yesterday, solid ground. It unnerves me.

We finally arrive at my sister’s house. She is safe. She gives me milk to drink. I tell her I am leaving the city right now. She tells me I am in shock. I tell her I don’t care, I am leaving.

She gives me shoes.

When I arrive home, I cannot even enter my house. Everything is ruined. The television has toppled, all the glass and china is smashed. I know my cat is in here, somewhere, in the wreckage. I could look for her among the broken glass but I choose to leave her. I whisper a ‘sorry’ as I take my dog and put her in the car and start to drive.

I know that I need gas and that my phone is dead and that the sky is darkening. I know, above all, that the roads are dangerous. I pray as I drive โ€” a single, hopeful word:

Please. Please. Please.

I pass great sinkholes that have swallowed cars whole. I drive around them on loose and shifting black silt and close my eyes with every judder. I pray and drive.

Pray and drive.

Until I make it out of the city.


* * *

The day after, I call Zak. I thank him for staying with me. Again, I don’t have enough words.

“It was nice to have a friend,” he says.

“Wasn’t it just?” I agree.

Wasn’t it just.


* At the time of writingโ€”February 24, 2011โ€”the city of Christchurch is devastated. The 6.3 earthquake struck 5 months after the first 7.1 earthquake – bringing down hundreds of buildings in the CBD and killing many, many people. The city remains without power or water or waste water. The New Zealand Prime Minister has called the tragedy – ‘New Zealand’s darkest day.” My thoughts and love go out to all those who didn’t make it home on February 22nd.

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Zara Potts ZARA POTTS is an Associate Non-Fiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. In a former life, she was a network television journalist, specialising in murder stories and entertainment. She has worked variously as a producer, reporter and publicist as well as contributing to major newspapers and other media outlets in New Zealand. Alongside her television work, Zara has also been involved in radio and film. She also, weirdly, has been a judge for the NZ Music Awards. When she isn't online, she is working on her first novel. She lives in Auckland with a bionic dog.

171 responses to “Earthquake”

  1. D.R. Haney says:

    It’s strange, the things we think about in moments of crisis, such as wanting to know if this quake was bigger than the last. After the Northridge earthquake here in SoCal some years ago, I spoke to my neighbor outside, not long after the sun had come up (the quake struck at 4:30 a.m.), and said, “Do you think that was the Big One?” (We’ve long, in SoCal, expected an 8.0 or greater.) “Definitely,” she said. I thought, well, at least we got that out of the way, and some time later, after the power had been restored, I learned the quake was “only” 6.5 or thereabouts. I can’t begin to imagine how an 8.0 would feel. During the quake, I was sure I was going to lose my mind if the rumbling increased, as it seemed to do second by second, like the whistling of a teapot that keeps getting louder and louder and louder. And do you know what I was thinking about for the first few seconds? A screenplay. I’d been working on a screenplay when the quake hit, and I jumped up from my desk and ran to the door, gripping the door frame and wanting to turn back and hit SAVE, otherwise I would lose all of the work I’d done since the last time I’d hit SAVE, maybe an hour’s worth. Then the power went, and I knew I’d lost the work, and I just held to the door frame for what seemed like a long time, though the quake only lasted maybe thirty seconds. Funny how long thirty seconds can feel, and is, when your life is in jeopardy, or seems to be.

    It won’t mean much for me to commend you for the writing here, but it’s a gripping piece, Z; a TNB hall-of-famer, to be sure.


  2. I thought I’d have to wait a long time to read this Zara. I’m just glad that made it through safe and sound and with this story to tell, which was horrifying but beautifully told.

    I remember looking at Google News and seeing the first breaking headlines and just thinking, “Fuck. Zara.” I jumped on Facebook hoping to see something that said you were alright, and fortunately it wasn’t long before your worried friends had discovered that you were ok. Strange how we all mock Facebook and yet sometimes it’s so important.

    What a goddamn shame, though, for those who didn’t make it, and their families. And of course for those whose homes are ruined. And for the old buildings brought down. And for the animals lost in the chaos, even more confused than the people.

    Anyway, once again I’m incredibly glad that you’re alive.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dearest David,
      Thank you so much for your thoughts. I think sometimes, in a weird way, that it is just as difficult being away from events like this and seeing it all unfold and feeling helpless to do anything. My mother, luckily, was away from the city that day – and I know that it was horrific for her to be seeing it on television and not knowing where any of her loved ones were. Knowing that we would be in the centre of town and not being able to do anything about it. I hate to think what she, and many other people, were going through.
      It is such an awful thing. For Christchurch to suffer a 7.1 shock in September and then be hit by this second, more deadly, quake seems beyond belief. The city, as we know it is not there anymore. Of course, they are just buildings and it’s the loss of life that is the most horrifying thing, but yes, the heritage buildings have gone, just rubble now and the city will grieve them because they were the heart of this place. I don’t know how Christchurch will come out of this. I hope it does but I do fear for its future. And yes, I can’t even bear thinking about the animals. We passed a few people out searching for lost dogs and cats that day. Dogs that were so scared they had squeezed themselves out cat doors and just taken off. I’m so glad my dog came through it alright. I’m so sorry for all those people who have lost beloved pets. I hope they come on home soon.

  3. Judy Prince says:

    Tragic, surreal—-oh Zara I’m so glad you’re now well and safe!

    So beautifully written and such a horrid nightmare experience.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Judy,
      Thank you. It really was horrible. No other words for it. I’m so lucky that I am okay and my loved ones are okay. I grieve for all of those who aren’t.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Zara, I know you grieve for all those whose loved ones aren’t ok. Your heart has always been bigger than any earthquake, whether of the soil or the soul; and this narrative, an exceptional journalistic achievement, is a major contribution to those you can’t physically reach, a solid work of love for them. You’ve alerted all of us to the horror that blinds all other scenes, reaching to the very depth of our feelings to spotlight losses and terrors of the most fundamental kind. How can any of us not respond with a tsunami of fear for the melting and undulating of the earth beneath our feet? What could be a more basic act than that of the land convulsing, unable to hold us steady and safe?

      My immediate response to the tragedy and devastation you faced was to yell: “Come here to safe lands in the USA, Zara! Or in England! We’ll take care of you and your family!” Several hours haven’t diminished that strong impulse to yell the message to you.

      I know you will feel commitment to staying, but please do keep your thoughts open to living elsewhere, if only for a long hol. Grab a plane with Simon and come here again. You may find your message of your homeland’s devastation an important part to bring to us here and to write about whilst here. Creativity and love have more ways than a billion to send out their messages. Think about it, please.

      Hugs and deepest prayers for your mending feelings and for the heartbreaks that you and others are experiencing. You are a messenger, you know. I have often felt from your writing that it is one of your most important jobs on earth, bringing messages to us so that we see life’s difficulties more clearly, grasp our roles in meeting their challenges with acts of commitment, strength and love—-and for giving us YOU as an example of a rising and residing love within us.

  4. Fergus Aitken says:

    Zara – such a great piece of writing and so glad to hear you survived this.
    A beautiful expression of a terrible time.

    All the best for the challenging time ahead.


    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Fergus,
      Thank you so much. I hope all your friends and family are alright? What a terrible day, I can’t even imagine how the city will rebuild itself.

  5. So grateful that you and your family made it out. I can’t find the words here to express my feelings.
    But, I am making it my duty now to appreciate every little thing that can be taken for granted. As soon as I saw that this had happened, it seemed like a dream. I thought that this was a wrong news story at first, knowing that Christchurch had already gone through an earthquake. My God.

    The details here are what nobody could ever imagine when reading about it or hearing about it. I guess as way of protection, people put the story in a little box without details. The socks, the way you were grateful you had matching socks – because when you put them on that morning, you had no idea they would be seen that day. The chocolate – someone put chocolate in your mouth. You wanted to get back to work to tell your boss that you needed the day off. The feeling of needing to walk, needing to get out – I remember that in the city on 9/11 – we just walked and walked all day not sure what was to happen next. And trying desperately to get with our loved ones. Knowing people were trapped and dying within eyesight – feeling helpless and wanting to help, and also scared for your own safety.

    And yes, this is so beautifully written – so glad that you are safe and with your family now.
    Prayers for those who are not. So much love sent to you and to New Zealand.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Steph,
      Thank you so much for your messages and concern on Feb 22. It helped a great deal knowing that people cared about what was going on in poor old Christchurch.
      I think because Christchurch got off relatively lightly on Sept 4 – when the 7.1 quake hit – that nobody was really expecting anything worse that that. The first earthquake struck the city at 4.30am on a Saturday, so there were no casualities and we all felt so blessed for that. Buildings can be repaired or replaced but lives cannot. This second quake – 6.3 and smaller than the first – was much shallower (5 kms underground) and hit the city in the lunch hour, the worst possible time. I remember being on the street and just knowing that there would be many people dead. The quake itself felt just lethal.
      It’s weird those details you notice huh? The socks were so strange because I often wearing unmatching socks and I was so happy to have matching socks that day – as if anyone was going to notice them. And yes – the getting back to work thing. Unbelievable. All I could think about was going back to work – as if anyone would be in the building! – to say that I was going home. I guess that’s shock. My friend Amanda was amazing. Having lived through thousands of aftershocks after the first big quake, she was amazingly cool headed and calm. I can’t believe I was so stubborn as to not go with her. Actually, it was she who told me how I was hurt – I couldn’t quite figure out where my bruises came from, I must have blocked it out and when I finally managed to get hold of her yesterday she told me that I had fallen and been trampled. She had a terrible time of it and her bravery brings me to tears. I am so proud of my family and friends – My sister who kept a cool head even though she couldn’t get to her baby. Bon who rescued my dog and then came to rescue me on a bike. All of my loved ones are safe and I couldn’t ask for anything other than that. Thank you, dearest Steph.

    • kristen says:

      Yes, the details–strange chocolate, heart socks, boss concern–conveyed so very much on reading this beautiful/shocking/humane piece. And that walking…

      Heaps of love and healing energy your way, Z.

  6. Lorna says:

    Oh, Zara. How frightful. I am at a loss for words. I am happy to hear you and family are okay. Prayers sent you way and to the whole of New Zealand. xx

  7. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Thank you for telling your story, Zara. I’m so glad you’re safe–and your animals are, too.

    It’s the human kindness in the midst of impersonal disaster that has a grounding effect. Hurricane Katrina brushed where I lived, but it tore apart the lives of several friends. I know all too well the lingering shock and confusion of those who endure something like this. All I could do was feed them and listen. Hurricane Gustav was brutal, and for a long while, we all walked around in a daze. At the same time, people really did reach out to help one another. Small gestures kept us steady.

    Know that, in time, everything will be okay. XOXOXO

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Miss R,
      Thank you for your messages – They worked. Pepper is still traumatised but is slowly getting better. I know that Lola is being taken care of and I am just so lucky that I still have my pets, as many people don’t.
      You are so right about kindness. I saw amazing acts of generosity that day. People were helping other people and opening their homes and hearts and doing everything they could to help one another. The city is so broken that it has come down to community spirit. No longer is it a big city, it is now community after local community, organising and helping each other. It is remarkable. People are remarkable. They suffer terrible tragedy and unimaginable horror and still they carry on. I am in awe of the bravery of the trapped people and their families who have such a terrible wait. I am so proud of my brave friends who got through this intact. I’m so proud of my mother, who by being out of the city, and watching it unfold on television, had a terrible experience. It was awful, but bit by bit we will get better. Everything will be okay. Thank you so much. Thank you.

  8. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    This is simply unbelievable. The entire thing, from the event itself, to the horrific aftermath where the river rises and the city falls, to you walking out of the rubble, to you managing to sit down to process it into words. We’re lucky to have you here, still and always.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Nathaniel,
      It really was unbelievable. The most unbelievable thing for me was seeing my hometown, a city I know so intimately, just fall. It was like a war zone. I really don’t think I was able to process what I was seeing and just kind of got through on auto pilot. I am lucky to be here, I am starting to realise that now. I am also very lucky that I have such wonderful support and so much love. Truly blessed indeed.

  9. Reno Romero says:


    this brought a tear to my eyes more than one time. i’m so happy you made it. you’re such a dear person to me and one hell of a writer i don’t even want to think of another outcome. when i heard the news it was like: “oh, zara…” but you got it on here. this is sad. scary. even beautiful in a terrifying way. the images are stunning. and yet you seemed to write it in a very relaxed tone. i don’t know what else to say. other than i miss you and am so happy you, your family, and friends are doing as good as can be. take care out there, z.

    reno romero

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear R,
      I am very happy I made it also. Thank you for your messages and your words here. I am so glad my loved ones got out okay. I’m so sorry for all those who didn’t. It just seems unfair and like a big game of chance – ordinary people just going about their days. In the office, at lunch, on a bus. Ordinary things, ordinary people and then suddenly these ordinary things are deadly. Buses crushed. Offices collapsed. Death and massive destruction. It seems unfair that it is so random. It is so incredibly frightening to not know when the next jolt is coming and whether it may injure or kill you. I don’t wish to experience anything like it again and I hope that nobody I care about does either. Stay safe.

  10. Matt says:

    I saw this headline pop up on my phone’s news app right after it happened and my heart sank for the people of Christchurch. By strange, surreal coincidence, I had *just* been talking to someone about walking around New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and this brought all those images surging right back. I still don’t entirely have the words.

    Your account of this is harrowing and leaves me feeling shaken, but that’s how it should be. From my own experiences, I don’t envy the struggle you’ve got ahead of you. But if those of us on the far side of the world can help, please let us know – by carrier kea, if necessary.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Matt,
      Thank you for leaving messages on my phone. When I could finally access my phone, it was a great comfort to hear all these voices on my phone willing me to be okay. It really was, so thank you. I’m sorry that you are shaken by this. I can’t imagine how awful Katrina was. It went on so long and was so terrible. The rebuilding process is going to be hard for Christchurch. Right now, they are still retrieving bodies and trying to stabilise buildings but the whole of the central is devastated and it is very difficult to see how the city will recover.
      The Cathedral coming down is something I still can’t believe. It had been there my entire life as a symbol of Christchurch. It was iconic and everybody from Christchurch knew its image almost as well as their own face. To see this amazing building down just broke my heart. It’s only bricks and mortar, i know, but it was the heart of the city and to see it broken fills me with such despair I can’t even understand it. Thanks for the offer of help. It’s hard to know what to do. I guess the only practical thing is donations. I’m sure the red cross and charitable orgs are gearing up. I know the US has sent a search and rescue crew along with britain, australia, singapore and japan. Other than that -just send us your love and thoughts.

      • Matt says:

        Someone on Twitter sent out a photo of the crumbled cathedral the evening of. It was my first actual visual impression I got of exactly what had happened. It’s only bricks and morter, as you say, but I saved a copy to my phone anyways. Because it’s an image worth remembering.

        Glad you and yours are safe. I made a donation to Red Cross New Zealand once my paycheck cleared this morning.

  11. Simone says:

    I, too, thought I’d have to wait a while for this story.

    Beautifully written, as always.

    Thanks to Matt for filling me in at around 6:00am on Tuesday morning. After reading worrying comments on FB I thought you… well, let’s just say I’m happy you’re alive and well to tell this story.


    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Sim,
      Thanks for your messages, I really appreciated them.
      I too, am happy to be alive and well! There were definitely a few moments when I truly thought i wouldn’t be. Thank God that I had my friend with me. It would have been so, so much worse had I been alone.

  12. Dana says:

    Oh Zara, I’m so relieved you and your loved ones weren’t seriously injured. This was just heartbreaking to read. What an absolutely terrifying experience. Wish I could give you and yours a great big hug.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Dana,
      Thank you. I am really lucky that my loved ones were relatively safe and uninjured. My bruises and cuts were superficial and nothing to complain about. What has happened in Christchurch is heartbreaking. The number of people lost, for a relatively small city, will have a major impact on the psyche of the place and the rebuilding that will have to take place is, at this point, very difficult to imagine.

  13. Greg Boose says:

    Jesus, Zara. What an account… So happy you made it out okay, and I’m sorry to hear about anyone who did not.

    Take care of yourself. There’s a lot of people thinking about you.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Greg,
      Thank you for your thoughts. It really helps knowing that we are in people’s thoughts. Thank you again.

  14. Kerry says:

    Thank you for sharing your devastating story with us. It’s important and puts Christchurch’s tragedy in immediate perspective for those of us a world away. I’m glad you are safe. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m so sorry for New Zealand’s loss. Much love to you all…

  15. Ashley (N.O. Lady) says:

    Z, I’m having trouble finding the words to match my feelings. I feel like I have so much to say. So much to tell you.

    I’ll just say that I’m happy you are ok. I am sad for the long road ahead of you. Stay strong and stay as positive as possible. We love you.

    This piece is a true testament to your writing abilities. I still haven’t been able to write about Katrina. I just can’t. It’s only been a few days and you’ve painted a perfect picture of your own experiences. Wow.

    If there is anything we can do, over here in the states, please let us know.

    Love and prayers…

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Ash,
      Thank you. I can’t imagine how awful Katrina was for you. I understand you not being able to write about it. I kind of hesitated with this piece but in the end just decided to go with it. A couple of days on and I am looking back with a kind of veil. It doesn’t quite seem real and so this was a way of keeping it as real as I could, by trying to remember everything I felt and saw at the time. In the moments after the earthquake I knew it was a life changing experience and so I needed to write it down so I didn’t forget. The mind is an amazing thing – it does try very hard to block out awful things. I thought it was important somehow to keep the memory of it. Every day though, I’m glad that it’s getting better. I’m sorry for your city and the awful tragedy it bore witness to.

  16. Victoria Patterson says:

    I thought of you immediately when I heard about the earthquake. This was so devastating to read. Thank you for writing this and sharing. I’m so glad you’re safe.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Victoria,
      Thank you. I am so glad I am safe too. It was the weirdest thing. I was very glad that my mother was out of town. It was her birthday and I knew that had she been in town, she would have been in the city having lunch or shopping, so immediately after the earthquake, it was a relief not to have to worry about where she was. I just knew I had to walk out and find the rest of my family and friends. Thank goodness they were all alright.

  17. Gloria says:

    Zara – I’m so happy to hear word from you. I was so concerned about you, your family, your loved ones. You should’ve seen Twitter the day of the quake – lines and lines of texts from people asking each other if they knew if you were okay.

    I mean, I see that okay is relative. This piece is beautifully written, as is your standard. But, mostly, I’m just really glad that you and your dog made it out of the city.

    Your friend Zak is an angel. I take it his family is okay, too?

    Duke makes a great point about the crazy things we think in times of tragedy, and the part about your socks matching made me both laugh and tear up.

    Blessings and well wishes to you and your city, Zara.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear G,
      Thank you so much. It was awful knowing that people were worried about me and not being able to communicate that I was okay. I am so grateful for all the messages and calls and texts that I received from around the world, It made everything so much better.
      Zak was amazing. The fact that he had his family right in the epicentre of the quake and stayed so calm and stoic was incredible. He kept me calm and I really think I would have panicked if he hadn’t been with me. He and his family are fine, thank God.
      The socks are funny huh? It’s getting easier to laugh a few days on. Last night, my brother and his wife joined us up here in Blenheim (4 hours out of Christchurch) and we were laughing hysterically about my getting trampled. My brother thought the heel print bruise on my thigh was the funniest thing he’d seen for ages!!! It was nice to laugh about it. But it’s funny, even as I write that – I feel guilty that I am able to laugh about it. The fact that there are so many people dead is so sobering and just trying to have some normalcy feels about 100 kinds of wrong right now.

  18. Becky Palapala says:

    Jesus, Zara.

    I’m absolutely blown away that you were able to write this so well so soon.

    Thank God for old boyfriends and a safe dog and a safe family and a safe you.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Becky,
      Thank you. And yes – thank God for old boyfriends who are angels in disguise. And thank god for safe families and friends and doggies.
      It was amazing how instinct just took over and I knew that I would walk for as long as it took to make sure they were all safe.

  19. Don Mitchell says:

    This is first-rate disaster writing, Zara. You caught the way one thinks, perfectly.

    It was a very long few hours until we heard you are all right.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Don,
      Thank you. I was very aware of the strangest details during the experience – the chewing gum texture of the tar, the thin coating of road – I filed it all away as I walked. It was strange because I had my camera with me and immediately after the event I did take a couple of pictures but then I was like ‘what am I doing? this is no time for pictures.’ and put my camera away.
      I was amazed at how my brain kept overriding my natural instinct. When I really wanted a cigarette for instance, I could quite clearly hear myself telling me not to have one. There was one part of my head that was completely logical and it helped keep me calm. Of course, It helped tremendously that I had a friend by my side. I don’t know that I would have kept it together without him.

  20. I am so relieved to find you are here. And I am amazed at the capacity the human brain has during overwhelming tragedy to focus on the mundane: your matching socks, the level of the quake, an old boyfriend’s hand in yours. Little gifts to cope, to survive, that on the most ordinary of days would seem like nothing, but on a day where your life hangs in the balance, seem like everything.

    Hold tight, Z. You have survived. And we are all here for you.

    • Everything Robin said, and so very glad that you’re safe.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Robin,
      Thank you. It is amazing how the brain copes, keeping a sense of purpose among chaos, is extraordinary. My brain just kept telling me to walk and so i did as i was told. And yet, there were some things my brain just would not accept. When the quake started, I resisted my friend pulling me inside and ran for the street. I resisted her again when she told me to come with her and instead went back to my workplace to say I was going home(!) This seemed so very important at the time but of course it was completely irrational. The buildings I had known and loved since infancy were broken and I just could not register it. When I saw my beloved cathedral down, I really thought I was on another street. The view that I was used to was gone and I couldn’t accept what i was seeing. Bizarre.
      Thank you, Robin. This TNB community is truly amazing.

  21. […] The Nervous Breakdown thenervousbreakdown.com/zpotts/2011/02/earthquake/ – view page – cached Zara Potts relives the most terrifying day of her life. February 22, Christchurch, New Zealand. The day the earthquake struck., Zara Potts relives the most terrifying day of her life. February 22, Christchurch, New Zealand. The day the earthquake struck. […]

  22. Joe Daly says:

    Thank God you’re OK. This is an extraordinary post on a number of levels. Here’s hoping its composition brought you closer to emotions and perspective that will help you move forward.

    You made it through. Start leaning on your friends for anything you need. That’s why we’re all here.

    Much love,


    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Cupcake,
      Thank you so much for your words. I haven’t stopped talking about it since it happened. I think that’s probably a good thing. It’s amazing how quickly we move forward – already I am feeling removed from it and thus, braver. But I know that as soon as I return to the city and feel the aftershocks that I will be scared shitless again. I was having coffee with a friend yesterday and a kid in the cafe kicked the wall and I literally jumped out of my seat. I’m fine when the ground is stable but I cant even imagine going into a high rise or a city building again. I hope I can, but right now, I don’t even want to think about it.
      Friends are wonderful things. I appreciate every one of you dearly.

  23. I agree, extraordinary post. What a terrifying experience. Thank goodness you’re well!

  24. angela says:

    zara, i’m all teary and so glad you’re okay.

    much of your story reminded me of 9/11, but especially this: “All I can think about is getting back to work so I can tell my boss that I am taking the rest of the day off.”

    my ex worked on Wall Street, overlooking the World Trade Center, and yet he thought he had to return to work on 9/12. funny how the mind tries to continue to be “normal” despite extremely abnormal circumstances.

    again, so glad you’re all right.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Angela,
      Thank you for your words. It was weird, but right after the earthquake as the dust was filling the streets, all I could think of was 9/11. I remember thinking “I’ve seen this on TV.” The whole experience was surreal and frightening. I don’t think I have ever been as frightened as I was that day.

  25. Quenby Moone says:

    Dear Zara, we’ve all been hoping and wishing and wondering how you and yours are. It’s cold comfort when the devastation is so complete, but we’re all so relieved that you’re alright. Please hold your loved ones as close as you can, and know that we’re all here with you.

    I can’t imagine how you can go forward, except one small footstep at a time. We’re so relieved you’re still with us!

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Quenby,
      You guys are amazing. I could feel all the love and support from you guys washing over me throughout the day and it helped me tremendously.

  26. Ducky Wilson says:

    Lord, Zara, I came over to this site just to see if you were ok and low and behold your post was first up. I read about the earthquake and have had you on my mind since. Had hoped you weren’t anywhere near it. Is there anything I can do?

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Ducky,
      How lovely to see your yellow gravatar! I am okay right now, being with family away from the quake centre. I can’t even think what there is to do, how the city can be helped. Right now, they are without power and drinking water and waste water and we have no idea how long it will take to get these essential services back on. I got out the first night it happened so am lucky to have everything I need. My poor family are still there, suffering through aftershocks in the darkness with no heat, no light and no food. It’s just dreadful.

  27. Tom Hansen says:

    I don’t know what to say. Happy you’re safe, and you’ve written an amazing piece

  28. Oh my God, Zara, when I first heard about this I had no idea how bad it had really been. The photos are terrifying and your retelling of it even more so. I’m so glad you made it out safely. I really don’t know what else to say.

  29. Saw this on my little news feed and immediately thought. Shit. Hope Zara’s ok. Of course, thinking that makes me question the surreal selfishness of hoping one person is okay amongst widespread devastation, but there you have the working of connections made here, and of the human mind in general. And part of me just had the feeling that you were ok. Not hoping, just sensing. Your piece brought me right back to the San Francisco quake of 1989, my experience being similar. I can so empathize with that sense of walking around in wonder and shock. If not in socks. Great writing. Wish there was some way I could help.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Sean,
      Thank you for thinking of me. As I said somewhere else in these comments, I really felt all the strength and love from all my friends washing over me and it really helped me get through. I can’t imagine how awful the SF quake was, although I guess I now have a better understanding. It’s a terrible thing to see your fellow human beings walking round like extras in a disaster movie. if you could send me some socks – that would be great. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Brigid Brock says:

        Dearest Zara, So glad to see your humour is coming through what has obviously been the most terrifying ordeal. Such a poignant and horrific account. So beautifully written!

        Much love,


        PS. Careful what you ask for Zara… I visualise sock shops around the globe being inundated with requests for black socks with love hearts.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Dear Brigid,
          Thank you so much – I have just watched the images of Lyttelton on the telly. It’s just unimaginable how broken it is. Shocking and terrible. I’m so glad that you and Zoe weren’t living there. I was just there the other night at the Volcano and I glanced over to your old house and thought about you and Z.
          Black love heart socks – lets hope the sox shops sell out!
          Best love to you,
          Zara xx

  30. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    “I look down the road to the centre of the city. For over a hundred years, the cathedral has stood tall in the square, a proud icon of the city, beloved to all its children. Its mighty steeple has fallen. The heart of the city has collapsed. My mind will not accept what my eye is seeing.”

    I just tried to read this part out loud to my husband. I couldn’t get through it because the tears started flowing and my voice went out. The St. Louis Cathedral is my favorite place in NOLA. I find myself searching for her elegant steeples from all angles of the city. I have taken hundreds of photos of her. I have a framed picture of her hanging on the wall above me as I write this. I’m even wearing a tiny silver replica of her around my neck.

    The thought of her not being there is too much. I am so sorry for the loss of your home as you’ve always known it. The thought of your “broken skyline” makes my heart ache. I wish I could hug you right now.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Ash,
      I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes buildings are symbols of everything we hold dear. The cathedral to me was a symbol of strength, of connection, of the past and the future. To see it in ruins just breaks my heart.

  31. Brad Listi says:

    Man. I’m gonna echo what everyone is saying — so sorry that this happened and so happy that you made it out okay — and, on a readerly level, so impressed with your account. You often hear about big traumas, and how it’s difficult to write about them well until time has passed and some perspective has been gained. In the case of this essay, you manage to take the immediacy of the event and the rawness of the emotions involved, and turn it into something gold.

    Anyway…so glad you’re safe. We were all concerned. I got a lot of emails, asking about you.

    (And, with a bit of pride — kudos to the TNB community for rallying around our beloved correspondent in New Zealand!)

    Hang in there, Z. Let us know if we can do anything.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Brad,
      Thank you. This community has been amazing – for all the messages and phone calls and absolute support, I feel truly blessed. I can’t express how much that meant to me and my loved ones. When something so terrible happens, you feel so isolated and to know that the rest of the world is thinking and hoping and wishing good thoughts, is something quite incredible. Thank you once again for letting me be a part of this wonderful family.

  32. I agree with Don; you’ve done an amazing job capturing the moment, as well as the interior and exterior landscapes. It took me back to those 2001 quakes in El Salvador, which weren’t as strong but were made deadly by crappy architecture. The time of day made all the difference in the world.

    So glad you’re alright.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Tyler,
      Thank you. The landscapes were so weird to capture. Streets that I have known forever, buildings that I could draw from memory were suddenly completely different. It’s amazing about the time of day – lunchtime couldn’t have been a worse time. Thank you again.

  33. Jorge says:

    Though you’ve had many people comment and thank you for your story, chalk this up to another one.

    I know this is an avenue to help you deal with the situation, but as a reader I am surely glad you’re OK (you know what I mean…I think) and sure am honored you were able to give us a first-person account.

    As Brad said, if you need anything please don’t hesitate — let us know if we can do anything.

    Thanks, Zara!

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Jorge,
      Thank you so much. The best thing you guys can do is to keep us in your thoughts. It’s amazing how much this means to us all.

  34. […] The Nervous Breakdown thenervousbreakdown.com/zpotts/2011/02/earthquake/#comment-128060 – view page – cached Zara Potts relives the most terrifying day of her life. February 22, Christchurch, New Zealand. The day the earthquake struck., Zara Potts relives the most terrifying day of her life. February 22, Christchurch, New Zealand. The day the earthquake struck. Tags […]

  35. I’m so thankful that you and your family are ok, Zid. This was terrifying and heartbreaking and made me worry all over again.

    You have such depth and clarity in this piece. Thanks for sharing, Love.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Megan,
      There’s a lot to be thankful for. I’m counting my blessings every day. Thank you for all your support and kind thoughts. It means so much.

  36. Rochelle Gillespie says:

    Thank you for your honest account of such a horrifying experience. I am in tears for my hometown. I am so pleased you are safe. Kia Kaha.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Oh Rochelle.
      It’s so awful. I am horrified about CTV. I can’t even believe it. I am so glad you guys are safely in Auckland. Love to you and John and the babies xx

  37. Susie Hill says:

    MORE than anything I have seen covered on TV, you describe the day, the moment, your terrifying ordeal. My heart goes out to you and all from our beautiful city of Christchurch. We feel helpless up here in Auckland. Take care of each other and write your book! Arohanui.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Susie,
      Thank you so much for reading. I wasn’t sure whether I should put this up but when I read comments like yours, I feel a lot better about it. Be safe. x

  38. Meg Worden says:

    Amazing and terrifying Zara. It’s so impressive that you are able to put these words down so soon. Sending nonstop love and prayers to you, to your family, your kitty and all of the people who survived and those that didn’t. Hoping your lovely home and town will be on the mend soon.
    Thank you for sharing this. Really. Crying and feeling so grateful for life right now.
    Big love to you, Zara.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Meg,
      Please keep sending prayers. I am so relieved about my kitty. I felt like such a shithead just leaving her. I am amazingly lucky that I got out of the city and have been able to escape the awful aftermath of no water, no power and aftershocks. However, my friends and family are still in the midst of it and my heart goes out to them. The bravery shown is staggering. Puts me to shame.
      Thank you, Meg.

  39. J.E. Fishman says:

    Powerfully told, Zara. Glad you are safe.

  40. sheree says:

    Excellent writing. Glad you’re safe. The hope in my heart is praying for your country.

  41. dwoz says:

    I know we don’t know each other at all, we’re little more than electrons arranging themselves in interesting patterns shuttling between us…

    …but you’ve become a tiny little part of my life, for what that’s worth, and I was quite worried.

    If I may say…pay close attention to your body in the next bit of time…trauma and stress of that magnitude tends to come ricocheting back. Be careful and take it easy.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Dwoz,
      Thank you for your worry. It means a lot to know that there are good wishes being sent from around the globe. It’s humbling. I’m grateful. I’m so very appreciative that the world is taking notice of what’s happened to my hometown. It’s a terrible tragedy and I hope that we can all get through it.
      Funny what you say about watching the body. Yesterday morning I tipped boiling hot water across my hand as I was making a coffee. Just completely missed the cup. I shall be more aware now..

  42. zoebee says:


    no words. i’m homesick. I want to be in Lyttelton. but I also don’t.

    xxx z

    • Zara Potts says:

      Darling Zobo,
      I am so glad you weren’t here. Lyttelton has been broken and brought to its knees and it’s horrifying to see. I was at the Volcano the other night and looked up at the house you used to live in. It is such a loss and I grieve with you.
      I love you. x

  43. Greg Olear says:

    Nothing I can do but thank you for this post, and God that you and Jude are okay.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Greg,
      I thank God and every other deity every single day. Just so glad none of my loved ones have been killed or badly injured.

  44. Erika Rae says:

    Zara – I’m just so glad you are alive. My heart ached when I heard. Much love to you, sweet girl. You always have a place to stay in the Rocky Mountains. Thank you for writing this.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Erika,
      Thank you for your thoughts and your offer. Right now, the Rocky Mountains sound ideal. Thank you so much for reading this.

  45. Nathan Pensky says:

    I don’t know you as well as some of the people here, Zara. But like everyone else, I’m very glad you’re okay and that you wrote this.

  46. Sarah Bell says:

    Jesus. I am so sorry for Christchurch but so incredibly glad you’re safe.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Sarah,
      Thank you. And thank you for thinking of Christchurch. She needs every good thought she can get right now.

  47. My favourite part was, of course, the bit about your socks.

    How could you not have made it home in one piece with such beautiful, loving socks to uphold and caress you when everything else was in shambles?

    I love those socks.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Kimberly,
      You know, i thought of you when I looked at my matching socks. It’s amazing what goes through your mind at these times and I was just so glad they matched. I just looked for them but I can’t for the life of me remember what happened to them. I guess I took them off but I don’t know where. Poor socks, they did me so well.

  48. J. Ryan Stradal says:


    This is staggering — I’m absolutely speechless.

    To echo Nathan Pensky, I’m also new addition to this community, and I’m equally impressed by both your powerful story and the beautiful show of support that TNB is offering you from around the world. There’s a lot of love here.

    I am also very glad that you and your loved ones and your bionic dog are OK. And I hope your cat, wherever she is, is OK too.

    J. R.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear J.R,
      Thank you so much for reading. And thank you for being a part of this wonderful community. The support and love here is staggering. Its force is a great as any earthquake.
      Yes, my loved ones are for the most part, okay. They’re not badly hurt but very badly shaken and it’s a terrible thing to see people you have known all your life frightened and dazed. The dog is still pretty traumatised. I’m hoping she will start getting better soon. I feel awful about my cat, but I know she is safe and being fed, so I am so grateful for that.

  49. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Zara,
    You wrote this so well.
    I was so worried.
    I’m so sad for those who didn’t make it andfor their families.
    I’ve been traveling and I don’t have Internet here,
    That’s why I’m so late.
    Be well.
    Be safe.
    Be strong.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Irene,
      Thank you and thank you for contacting Jude. All the support has really helped strengthen our hearts. You too, stay safe. x

      • Irene Zion says:

        I am just so relieved you’re alive.
        Before this horror, I never would have thought I would conceivably say those words.
        We just have to learn to take nothing for granted.
        That’s something most of us forget.
        Hug your mom for me, Please.

  50. Chris Meehan says:

    Zara – I heard about TNB this afternoon on National Radio as I was driving home from Kaiapoi, so when I got home I looked for your piece about Tuesday afternoon’s earthquake. Between your piece and that of Vicki Anderson from The Press, it certainly brought home to me the impact on people in the city as it happened.
    I am a school teacher at Our Lady of Fatima School on Innes Road, where we had about 250 primary school children out on the playing field at lunch time when the quake struck. I was actually inside my classroom with one child, who had just come to my desk as the noise began. Together we dived under my table and a nearby set of desks, where I know we just stared into each others eyes throughout the whole crazy thing wondering how on earth we might get out of this. Perhaps we will have a bond for life now!
    From the end of the first quake, no children re entered the school buildings – the whole school with staff congregated out on the court at the front of the school, waiting for parents to come. It was only a matter of minutes before parents came running onto the court from the street, however, for some parents it was an incredible journey, up to 2 and a 1/2 hours long.
    A father ran from AMI stadium, a mother walked from Westfield in Riccarton, several parents arrived wet to the knees and filthy after negotiating sink holes and flooded streets.
    However, it is wonderful to think that every child from our school, had parents arrive to take them home by 4pm – so lucky.
    I have now been introduced to TNB and look forward to reading more.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Greetings Chris. A wonderful reminder that teachers are the guardians of our children for so many hours of their lives, through come what may. Much respect to you and your colleagues for protecting the children under your care until their parents could arrive, even though you yourself probably had no idea about the safety of your own loved ones. Sorry it’s such a tragedy that brings you to TNB, but you are very welcome here.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Chris,
      How brave you were. I am just staggered at the stories I hear. How amazing of you to stay with those children and comfort them. My aunt told me how she was at her early childhood centre in Lyttelton when the quake hit and she had to lie down so that the children could all touch a part of her. Unbelievable. So brave, so humbling.
      Your story is inspiring, Chris. Thank you for sharing it and welcome to TNB.

  51. Uche Ogbuji says:

    I’m grateful for the safe passage of you and your loved ones. Godspeed toward normal, Zara. And to the people of ChristChurch, Ndo (Igbo for “keen condolences”) and Shantih.

  52. Richard Cox says:

    Lovely ZaraPotts, I’m so sorry for you and your hometown. This tragedy is devastating and my heart goes out to you. You’ve covered it here with such a sharp eye, and with your characteristic empathy. It reads like something out of a post apocalyptic novel, and I’m just so sorry that it’s not fiction but something that’s actually happened.

    Sending you my love and good thoughts. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dearest Richrob,
      Thank you for your words and your comfort and your concern over the past few days. I don’t know that I am really able to adequately express how much strength I have derived from you and this whole community since Tuesday. It is humbling to realise that there are countries right around the world thinking about us and caring and worrying. It’s hard not to feel completely isolated and I know that the people of Christchurch are so thankful for all the support they are getting.
      I have been relatively lucky in the fact that I have been out of the city since the night of the earthquake – my family and friends who bravely stayed to help others and clean up have had it so bad. I feel guilty for having run – I am amazed at the courage of those who stayed. It really was like an apocalyptic scene. All those old cliches really were the only way to describe it because anything else was simply inadequate.
      Thanks for your love and kindness. I send mine right back to you.

  53. Michael says:

    Glad you are all right. I saw footage last night of Clifton Hill and Sumner which kind of brought it home more than anything else.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Oh Mike,
      It’s so awful. Sumner was so badly hit. My little cousin narrowly escaped being hit by a boulder on Wakefield Ave. Everyone here has a story. They are all terrible. It really did come down to chance and that, maybe, is the scariest thing of all.

  54. Lenore says:

    oh god, Zara. i am so happy you’re okay. i was so worried. i don’t know what else to say, other than that i am so happy you and your family are safe. i love you.

  55. Cindy says:

    I come here to read things on The Nervous Breakdown frequently but very rarely leave comments. I am a classic lurker. When the quake hit, I was concerned about your safety. I am so glad to know that you are okay!
    I just wanted you to know that I think this article is very haunting yet beautiful at the same time. I had a hard time not crying here at my desk at work. It must be strange to hear that people you didn’t even know exist were worried about you, but I really felt compelled to post this. I wish you luck in dealing with everything that comes next.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Cindy,
      Thank you so much – it is such a comfort to read your words. You are so kind to read this and to think of me, it is so incredibly humbling to receive such concern. You are wonderful. Thank you.

  56. Amanda says:

    When I arrive at the office, I change from commuter shoes to secretary heels. But first, I walk around a bit in my socks. After the earthquake, I was sitting at my desk the next morning reading about it via an online news site, shuffling my socks on the floor and rubbing my toes over each other, kind of like the foot version of twiddling my thumbs.

    Then, I thought about you and hoped you were well. And then, I thought about what would happen if, in the five minutes when I hang out in stocking feet, I needed to bolt out of the building. Would I stop and put my shoes on? Or, would it be more important to just run?

    I’ll always think of you making your way home in love-heart socks, boots in hand.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Amanda,
      May you always have love heart socks on hand. I hope you never, ever have to run.
      Thank you so much for thinking of me. x

  57. Cheryl says:

    So glad to hear your and your family are safe, Zara, and so heartbroken over the loss and devastation in Christchurch. You always write with such beauty and immediacy. Reading your account, my heart started to race and tears welled up in my eyes. I could feel the numbed shock, see those blessed socks (and the feet in them) take one step after another over broken asphalt and thorugh swirling rivers of water and sewage… You have a gift for bringing readers into the moment and shattering the detachment between reader and page.

    Thank God for past boyfriends. <—– (I’m not sure I know of any other context in which I might write that sentence!)

    I’m glad you and he each had a friendly hand to hold.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Cheryl,
      I am so humbled by your words. You really give me such confidence with your comments, that is such a gift -thank you.
      Yes, thank God for (some) ex boyfriends. Zak really was an angel that day. He appeared at exactly the right time and just being able to walk with him and talk to him as we got through that terrible afternoon was a blessing. His journey when he left me, i can’t even imagine. He had to get to his family who were at the epicentre of the quake, who were over a massive hill with no roads open. I don’t know how he got to them, but he did and they are now all safe in the North Island, thank goodness.

  58. Jessica Blau says:

    I was SO SO worried about you and am so glad you’re safe!
    Where are you staying now?!
    Maybe you answered this above, but I’m rushing around and don’t have time to read all the comments.
    Just relieved and happy that you are okay!

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Jessica,
      Thank you -I’m okay. A little traumatised, i suspect, but nothing that time won’t put right. I managed to drive four hours to a town called Blenheim where I have been for the past four days. Tomorrow we are heading back to Christchurch to see family and friends and the missing cat. I hope, no, I pray, that the shakes will stay away!

  59. Definitely in the top ten pieces on TNB I have ever read. I will be featuring this on my Nick 4.0 blog on Kern Radio, News Talk 1180. Much love to you, Zara. Much love.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Nick,
      Thank you. That is really nice of you to say. And thank you for featuring this. I really appreciate your love and concern.

  60. Mary Bolton says:

    Dear Zara,
    My brother Peter Grattan has a home in New Zealand. Recently,we were re-united, after over fifty years of being apart. I still live in the UK. Despite the distance of our countries you inspire and unite people who read your work.

    Zara, you have this special calling which reaches out to people.
    When I read your story I felt as if I was there with you and experiencing the devastation. At first I felt it quite difficult to take it all in! You will have been traumatised and in shock at the time. Like on automatic pilot.

    Life is so precious Zara, and in time you will regain strength and peace.
    I wish for you, your family, your friends and all of the people affected by this tragedy, LOVE, STRENGTH and HOPE for the future.
    I will pray for the healing, and rebuilding of everyones life, as it will take time to ease the pain, and the hurt, but it will happen.
    I believe that we should never wait until tomorrow to tell someone that we love them.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, and I will keep you all in my prayers. Love. Mary x

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Mary,
      Your words are an absolute balm to me. Thank you so very much. I was definitely in two minds about whether I should post this piece – your comment has just convinced me that I did the right thing. Thank you so, so much.

  61. Jude says:

    I am so proud that you are a writer – an extraordinary writer. You have been able to articulate the horror, the terror, in a way that helps me know what you went through. You are such an incredible woman.

    You had many angels with you that day, guiding every footstep you took, and Zak – bless him – holding your hand, comforting each other… I think it was a miracle that you found each other. And the other hero of your story, is my lovely friend Bon. She heard the desperation in my voice – I felt so helpless where I was – and she came and got you. Bless her.

    And guess what, for your birthday from now on, every year I will be giving you black cotton socks with love hearts.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Mama,
      I don’t have words to say how glad I am that you didn’t have to go through this.
      I can’t say anything better to you than I love you so much.
      I’m pretty sure you know that, right? I love you, Mama.
      Oh, and Happy Birthday -I’m sorry the earthquake stole your thunder. xx

  62. Jane Hawley says:

    As I read “Earthquake,” I thought about the intersecting lines of destruction and unity–how tragedy both separates and brings us together. You showed this so well throughout the story… I loved how you captured the atmosphere of movement as a response to the earthquake. Pray and drive. I’ll remember that line for a long time.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Jane,
      It is true – tragedy does bring us together while splitting us apart at the same time. As I said in my piece, never have I felt so alone while surrounded by so many other people who were having the exact same experience. Moving was really the only thing I could do. Some part of me felt that I was outrunning it, but mostly it was simply so I could feel like I wasn’t standing still.
      Thank you for reading this and leaving your comment.

  63. Jeffro says:

    When I first heard about this on the news, I couldn’t help but think of you Zara. Sorry to hear (again) of NZ’s brush with another earthquake. My thoughts are with you all. Having never experienced anything more than a minor tremor in my life, I could not imagine.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Jeffro,
      It does seem pretty unfair that poor old Christchurch gets these two massive quakes within months of each other, doesn’t it. I can tell you – I was a little blase about earthquakes before this. Now I know better. It was a monster. A terrifying, horrendous monster. Thanks for reading, Jeffrey.

  64. Zara, there are no words. Your ability to relay minute detail while still in shock is stunning.

    I know I told you this already, but I’m so, so glad you’re alive and intact but equally sorry you’ve endured this. I can’t fathom what you and your loved ones are going through, but know you’ve got ongoing prayers and good wishes from Seattle.

    XO, dear lady.

  65. Zara, so glad you are okay. Thinking of you and everyone else. Stay strong. Sending love from Chicago.

  66. Hank Cherry says:

    “We finally arrive at my sister’s house. She is safe. She gives me milk to drink. I tell her I am leaving the city right now. She tells me I am in shock. I tell her I don’t care, I am leaving.

    She gives me shoes.

    When I arrive home, I cannot even enter my house. Everything is ruined. The television has toppled, all the glass and china is smashed. I know my cat is in here, somewhere, in the wreckage. I could look for her among the broken glass but I choose to leave her. I whisper a ‘sorry’ as I take my dog and put her in the car and start to drive.”

    When I read this I realized how fearful the whole thing was, and how sometimes we try and relate great tragedies from our own past with what has happened elsewhere, and that we shouldn’t. Because they are individual catastrophes, and they are experienced individually. How well you commanded a presence of mind throughout this.

    Brilliant writing. Long live Christchurch.

  67. jmblaine says:

    TNB is family
    & in tragedy
    pull in
    & worry
    & pray
    & celebrate when
    thing’s turn out OK.

    So glad you
    are OK.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dearest 11,
      Sorry I’m so late to this comment.
      I am so glad for my global family. So glad for the love and kindness that flows from this site. It lightens my heart.
      Thank you.
      Love is all.

  68. Zara! Already knew you were all right before reading this, but good god this had such an immediacy and raw fear to it that I was afraid of how it was going to end, even though I knew you had gotten out of the city. To think of you in your car alone at night, driving past sinkholes that had swallowed cars . . . to think of your mother’s friend out on her bike with her injured leg . . . you have that incredibly clear head and observant eye of the former reporter you are, mixed with the emotional intensity of the TNB writer we all know and love, and you’ve taken us to a place I know we all hope to never find ourselves. So glad you got out of there. So incredibly sorry for all those whose day ended far differently than yours, who suffered so many devastating losses, who did not live through the event, who are still there struggling. I am so selfishly glad you’re not among them–but stories like this also remind us that every single person who lived through the earthquake HAS a story, and you have given voice here to the fact that every victim of every disaster is a singular human being living through something only he or she can articulate. Thanks for articulating your story so well. Hugs from here. Please take care of yourself, sweet girl.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dearest Gina,
      Thank you so much for your eloquent comment. And thank you for all your support – it’s because of comments like your that I have the strength to write. The amazing support I have been given from my family here at TNB has allowed me to feel things and then write them and it is such a tremendous gift.
      It was truly one of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced and I am so glad I was able to walk out of the city. I grieve for those who didn’t return home and those still recovering from their injuries.
      I promise to take good care of myself… ๐Ÿ™‚

  69. I was so scared and worried about you when I saw the news. Thank you for this post, and for letting us know on Facebook that you were okay as soon as you could. I’m so sorry this happened to you, and to all of the other good people of Christchurch. Lots of love and luck to you as you pick up the pieces and move forward from this devastation. xoxoxo.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dearest Tawni
      I’m sorry I haven’t replied until now – and YOU have been in the wars yourself!! I hope you are okay and recovering. I’m so sorry. XXXX

      • No worries here. The Christchurch earthquake actually sent me into my recent abdominal surgery with a healthy dose of perspective. Any time I started to feel a “poor me” coming on, I sadly remembered the victims of the Christchurch earthquake who would love to still be alive like myself, with the option of surgery to fix what’s ailing them. I am doing absolutely fine, and healing so fast that I blew my doctor’s mind yesterday at my first post-surgery check-up. I really hope you can heal quickly too.

        Take care, sweet lady. Thinking of you. xoxo.

  70. Deanne Douglas says:


    Glad i knew you were okay before i read this – it was truly nerve-wrecking seeing you safely out of the city.

    Thank god for your love heart socks.
    Sending lots of love. xxoo

  71. Karen says:

    Oh Zara. In tears imagining what you, your Mom, Pepper, Bon, Lola and others must have endured during the height of this devastation. Your words bring the apparent horror and vulnerability to life.
    The timing of Zak being there seems a blessing, and I’m sure you were an angel for him as well.
    Very sorry for all, but so glad you are here to report as you so eloquently do.
    Sending thoughts and prayers of comfort, healing, strength and whatever you, yours, Christchurch and hers need to repair and rebuild.
    Love & hugs too.

    p.s. If I knew how to get these to you, I’d send you a pair of these
    or these

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dearest Karen,
      Thanks for the link! Wonderful!
      Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and for keeping Christchurch in your thoughts. It is so amazing knowing that kind people such as you exist.
      You are amazing. Thank you so much xx

  72. Simon Smithson says:

    As we all are, I’m so grateful you’re safe, Z. It was awful to hear the news, and then hear reports that people in your building had been injured. Knowing you as I do, I’m sure you would have been OK anyway, but Zak remains a hero.

    Poor Christchurch. The images and statistics are flooding in daily, and it just keeps on getting worse.

    Australia is standing with you, brew. As, of course, am I.

  73. Karen says:

    Oh Zara. In tears imagining what you, your Mom, Pepper, Bon, Lola and others must have endured during the height of this devastation. Your words bring the apparent horror and vulnerability to life.

    The timing of Zak being there seems a blessing, and I’m sure you were an angel for him as well.

    Very sorry for all, but so glad you are here to report as you so eloquently do.

    Sending thoughts and prayers of comfort, healing, strength and whatever you, yours, Christchurch and hers need to repair and rebuild.
    Love & hugs too.

  74. Boy. It was hard to comment earlier but I’ve just watched your segment on 60 minutes and want to tell you how eloquently you have told your story. And that I do remember how you must feel now. Earthquake or planes flying into towers, the results are the same. Walking home with thousands all trapped in a city under attack, yours by nature, mine by terrorists. The smell. The numb shock. The fear.

    You are amazing and so present to be able to put it down so quickly. I’m grateful you are safe and so grateful you were able to provide a personal voice for everyone in your city. For the little they do, I’m sending hugs, Zara Rose Potts.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dearest Colleen,
      I’m sorry I’m so late here. And I’m so sorry for your NYC experience. I can only imagine how awful and terrifying that must have been for you. It’s inspirational to see how your city recovered -i hope mine can too. It’s so difficult to get my head around the fact that it will never look the same, but I guess home is where the heart is and the people are and so luckily for me I now feel that I have homes all over the world.
      Love to you xx

  75. […] is working things out with its tectonic plates in a spectacularly violent fashion, affecting those near and dear to us in dramatic and terrifying ways. Our hearts, usually occupied by the few square miles around […]

  76. beyond late. a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching read. very difficult to read without tears. like ronlyn domingue, i was in baton rouge for gustav, newly-married, newly relocated, and the experience was most difficult. the salve was in the community of others, refuge sought and refuge offered. the city will rise anew, the spirit will stay resolute, there’s power in memory, in friendship, in keeping going. all best, james

  77. Ally says:

    Your experience has brought back such memories and emotions Like you, I was also in the central city during this horrific earthquake and can so relate to your emotionally charged words. I really thank you for writing them down!

    The destruction, sirens, dust, fear and constant moving of the earth was something we will never forget. The seemingly constant rumbling & shaking into the night that seemed so evil, so guttural and violent. We know now that this was due to the freak location, direction and speed at which this quake hit – a rare type of break in the earth that brought together all the elements together to make it into a true killer.

    I relate to the urge to leave the city – if I could’ve, I would have left too. It’s strange though the good things that come out of such devastation. My small work-team are so much closer now, the work-mate I walked home with and spent the afternoon with in our front yard… waiting & calming each other through the huge after-shakes, is now a best friend, I even know ALL of my neighbours!

    Anyway, I could write a book however really I just wanted to say thank you for speaking on behalf of Cantabrians. Even if not your aim, you have put words to the pictures which is so appreciated.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Dear Ally,
      Thank you so much for your words. I appreciate them more than I can tell you. It was a hard thing to know whether or not to post this piece – the experience was still so raw and I wasn’t sure if writing it was a good idea, but when I read comments such as yours – it makes me feel so much better.
      I think the one good thing the earthquake has done is cement bonds between those of us who were there. It is something we all share and I know it has made me treasure my relationships more. I thank you so much for reading, Ally. I wish you a very merry Christmas and a quiet earth next year. Much love to you and yours, Zara x

  78. Dear Zara;
    We knew each other from Linwood Intermediate. Decades later, I read your article in the New Zealand Herald about the earthquake. I was actually home for this terrible event and can relate to how you felt. I live and work in Europe as a university professor in law and economics. I remember your mother โ€“ when we were eleven, in my reality she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I hope you don’t mind but I took the liberity of looking you up and I found you here on this site. I have enjoyed reading your pieces. I hope this finds you well.
    Carole Emily Rutland

    • Zara says:

      Dear Carole
      I only just saw this comment from you – how wonderful to find it here.
      Thank you for your generous comments – especially about my mum – she’ll be thrilled!
      Please, look me up on FB or Linkedin, if you feel like it – it would be lovely to connect.

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