There were tears and beers yesterday as the first tourists to escape an earthquake-hit New Zealand town described scenes of pandemonium when the massive tremor struck as they slept.
“It frightened the life out of me,” David Foulds said, as he stepped off one of the fleet of helicopters ferrying people from the cut-off seaside town of Kaikoura to Woodend, near the main South Island city of Christ church.
“When it was all over we scarpered and there was pandemonium in the town,” he said, reliving Monday’s 7.8-magnitude nightmare, which cut road and rail links.
Foulds was among more than 100tourists who were airlifted to the town on the outskirts of Christ church, clutching what possessions they could carry.
Christchurch itself is still recovering from a destructive earthquake that claimed 185 lives in 2011.With waves of aftershocks continuing to rock the Kaikoura region, a popular whale-watching spot, many of the evacuees wept, overcome by emotion.
Others cheered and thanked the Red Cross workers and volunteers whoturned up to meet them in Woodend.
The Red Cross disaster support unit was there to arrange food and accommodation for the tourists, and assist with onward travel arrangements.
The relieved tourists also expressed admiration for the calmness and generosity of the Kaikoura residents, who took them in after the shaking stopped in the early hours on Monday.
Toon van Dyck, from Belgium, who is on holiday with his wife, Hanne, an done-year-old son, Maxand, said: “Itfeels good to be out but, to be honest,we felt safe there all the time.
“The people have been taking great care of us, providing us with everything we needed.”
It was a similar experience for Foulds, of Auckland, who had arrived in Kaikoura too late with his wife on Sunday night to find accommodation and was sleeping in his car.
“We stopped at this house and the family took us in – and we stayed therefor two days,” Foulds said.
“It was a humbling experience, but a frightening one.” Van Dyck said he felt confused but safe during the shaking.
“I was surprised. I had known of the Christ church earthquake, but never thought it would happen while we were here in a camp ground,” he said.
Peter Moeller, on holiday from Germany with his wife, daughter and grandchild to celebrate his 60th birthday, admitted he feared for their safety when the earthquake struck.
Their rented mobile home felt as if it was going to topple over and everything inside fell and smashed on the floor, Moeller said.
“We knew of Christchurch [the earthquakes], but never thought it would happen to us.”
When the heavy shaking stopped and Moeller made sure everyone was safe, there was only one thing to do.
“We drove up a hill and drank a couple of beers,” he said.