Duns men survive hell of Christchurch earthquake

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HUGE sighs of relief were breathed on Tuesday morning when the families of three Berwickshire men living in Christchurch were given the call to say they had survived the horrific earthquake that devastated the New Zealand city, killing 75 people so far.

The 6.3-magnitude quake hit at 12.51pm local time, 11.51pm British time, and caused immediate widespread damage owing to the fact that it occurred at a shallow depth of 5km.

Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key said the country was “witnessing its darkest day,” but fortunately Andrew Anderson from Whitsome and cousins Steven Blaikie and Scott Lackenby from Duns, who were out working at the time, escaped uninjured.

Some telephone lines were knocked down meaning the trio faced a frustrating few hours trying to contact their relatives back home to let them know they were alright. With many others trying to do the same, phone networks were jammed and Andrew said once he got through to his family, who had been frantic with worry, they were all massively relieved.

Speaking to ‘The Berwickshire News’ from the lads’ home just five minutes away from the centre of Christchurch, Andrew said: “All three of us appreciate the fact that we are very lucky to be alive.

“We were out working pretty much right in the centre of Christchurch when the quake struck. It was a huge shock but we’re fine. There was a massive landslide nearby and we saw one guy dead in the aftermath.

“There was a quake back in September but this one was much more violent and caused much more devastation.

“By the time I got through to home they had heard about what had happened and they had obviously been panicking.

“I wanted to tell them I was OK as soon as possible but the phone lines were really, really busy so it took a while to get in touch with them.”

Steven and Scott have been living and working in New Zealand for nine months and Andrew, who joined them a few months later, said although the earthquake has left them a bit shaken up they plan to stay there for a while longer.

He continued: “All three of us want to stay out here as long as we can. This is a bit of a scare but we’re enjoying ourselves out here.

“I think it’ll take Christchurch a long time to get over this. The city centre is pretty much flattened and there isn’t a building that hasn’t been affected.

“We were just in the right place at the right time. There has been some after shocks every five minutes or so but nothing too severe yet.

“When we got home there hadn’t been too much damage to the house. The 46 inch telly we have in the living room had jumped about four feet across the floor and everything had fallen out of the cupboards in the kitchen but apart from that there wasn’t too much wrong; it just looked like someone had ransacked the place.”

One of the parents extremely grateful to hear from her son was Steven’s mum, Carol who said she was woken up to news of the quake after her daughter saw it on the news.

“It must have been about 7 this morning (Tuesday) when I first found out about what happened, thankfully Steven managed to get through to us about half 8 but that hour and a half in between was absolutely horrendous.

“It wasn’t until I actually sat down and watched the news myself that I realised just how lucky the lads were. It was hard to take it all in.

“I’m just glad they’re all safe. The first thing I said to Steven was that he should get himself on a plane and get home, forgetting of course that the airports were closed!

“I know there was another tremor on Boxing Day which shocked them a bit and I’m just glad they’ve survived this one.”

Scott’s mum Janet was just as relieved, as having like Carol, first found out about the tremor on the TV news.

Fortunately, she has some friends who live in New Zealand who were able to reasssure her that the lads were all OK.

“I got up about half 6, made a cup of tea and then put ‘Daybreak’ on. It came up that 65 people had been killed in Christchurch and straight away I tried to phone Scott and it went to his answer phone.

“I managed to get in touch with a friend in New Zealand and was really pleased when she said her partner had spoken to Scott and he and the other two were fine.

“I just wanted to hear his voice so I was relieved when he rang me about half 8. I got the impression that he and the other lads were really shocked by what they’d seen. He said there was dust flying everywhere, helicopters over head with water and the army going about. It all sounded a bit scary.”

Another Duns family who were eager to speak to their son were the Aitchisons. Martin Aitchison had been staying with Andrew, Scott and Steven but caught a flight to Melbourne just five hours before the earthquake hit.