Celeb News

Christchurch stars: The shock of our lives!

Three celebrities reveal what they were doing when the Christchurch Earthquake hits and what it was like for them.

By Andrew McNulty
Simon Barnett reporting on Christchurch earthquake

Rocky romance
Simon Barnett (43)
Broadcaster Simon was enjoying a getaway with his wife when disaster struck

"What could possibly go wrong?" I asked my wife Jodi as we departed Christchurch for our very first romantic night away from the children in 20 years.

My wife is the loveliest woman in the world and she felt she couldn't leave our kids Samantha (17), Sophie (15) Isabella (11) and Lily (10) home alone. It was the first time we had left them without a family member or babysitter.

All the way to Hanmer Springs Jodi worried about the kids. I kept reminding her that we deserved this night away, just the two of us. It would be romantic and I couldn't wait.

But at our accommodation, Jodi woke me up in the middle of the night, still concerned about the kids. She wanted to drive home then and there. I told her we couldn't, and convinced her to go to sleep.

Then at 4.35am, we experienced the violent shaking. Jodi jumped out of bed, crying. She's got a mother's heart and automatically called out for the girls.

I tried to be the great comforter, telling Jodi the children probably didn't feel the quake in Christchurch, or slept through it.

But our cellphone rang immediately. It was the children, telling us they'd experienced the terrible earthquake. They were cuddled up in bed, in the dark, comforting each other - the big girls looking after the littler ones. They told us the TV and picture frames had fallen off the walls, but they were okay.

Any parent, in this kind of situation, just wants to grab their kids and cuddle them.

We jumped into the car and headed back to Christchurch. Jodie was upset, but she knew we'd be with our children soon. Driving through town was like we were in a disaster movie - streets were pushed up, roads had turned into gaping holes. It was really shocking.

Luckily, 10 days earlier, my daughter Lily had been learning about disasters at school, and came home insisting we put together an emergency kit. In my heart I was thinking, 'we really don't need to do that', but it meant the children were able to crawl downstairs to get the radio and listen to Civil Defence, and find their torches and snacks. Children are so resourceful when they need to be! I was really proud of them. When we finally arrived home, we hugged our them tightly and prayed together.

It's quite surreal that this has happened to our city. I still can't believe the magnitude of the disaster.

Needless to say, my wife has certainly let me know she won't be going away with me again - in humour, I had assured her I would make the earth move during our romantic getaway!

Topp terror
Lynda Topp (52)
The Untouchable Girl not only feared for her life but that of her partner Donna Luxton

Donna and I were woken up by the shaking and we knew straightaway what it was. We jumped up and went to the doorway, and just clung on. Donna's son Cameron (15) was in the room next door and we were yelling at him to get out.

The quake only took a minute but it seemed to last forever. It was a sort of rolling shake, a very weird sensation. I've travelled the world and been in a tornado and a tropical storm but I've never experienced anything like this. It was pretty terrifying.

As soon as it stopped, we went out to get the dogs, Barney and Moose, from their kennel - my chocolate lab Moose started barking as soon as the quake hit and barked furiously the whole time. We checked for damage and were so lucky that everything was okay.

The house is a wooden Lockwood-style place and it's on piles so we had quite a bit of movement. But there wasn't any structural damage.

Inside, we lost a photo from on top of a tallboy, and a photo of Jools and me with our horses ended up hanging at an angle on the wall but didn't fall off. We came through it completely unscathed, and feel so lucky. We have friends who have lost their homes, and it only took a minute.

Our power was still on so the first thing we did was put the jug on. I'm sure we weren't the only ones! I think there was probably a lot of tea drunk that morning!

As we watched the TV coverage we had that classic moment of: "This can't be happening to us". You see earthquakes on the news in places like Haiti and Chile, then when you see the pictures of Christchurch you think, "But that kind of thing doesn't happen here in New Zealand".

But obviously it does, and I really feel for those people who were in the thick of it and have lost their homes and businesses.

Shaky performance
Laura Hill (35)
The ex-Shortland Street star had just relocated to Christchurch from Auckland to work on a production of Eros at the famous Court Theatre

Welcome to Quake City! I never expected to experience this especially in Christchurch. I lived in Wellington for seven years so I'm kind of used to waking up in the night to the bed shaking a little bit. But even then, I've probably only raced to the doorway once or twice in my life. Usually the quakes have been small enough to think, "Oh, that's nice - sort of comforting," and then you forget about them afterwards.

The Christchurch quake was nothing like the shakes I'd experienced in Wellington. It was a really big jolt. I've been staying in a house next to my parents in the suburb of Shirley. I'm not that familiar with the place - no idea where there are torches, water, candles! - but I'm relieved all that advice that gets drummed into you by schools and parents and the Civil Defence immediately jumps into your head.

I got straight in the doorway - I braced myself against it while the house shifted from side to side. I began to think, "okay, how bad is this going to get? Do I need to get under the table? Am I going to be able to get to my phone, to my jacket, to shoes?"

My heart was racing; my mind was whirring, thinking of all the possible eventualities. Usually my coping mechanisms kick in but, this time, I was genuinely scared.

Luckily, the Court Theatre - which is in the Arts Centre, a beautiful, sprawling heritage precinct - is largely in tact. We were only one week into a four-week season of our play when the earthquake stuck. Now, the theatre is closed to the public! But there are plans to reopen as soon as possible.

We all got together at the theatre for a meeting last week and it was bizarre to see everything there, just as we'd left it after the last show. The props were untouched. The lights were still suspended from the ceiling.

Whether the audiences will come back remains to be seen. Maybe they'll be concerned about sitting in a theatre in a heritage building! People are still very jumpy. But Eros is a comedy so I figure it could be a form of escapism from the terrible time so many are facing.

It's such a cliché but this quake was a massive wake-up call. When you see houses moving around like they're made of Lego, it's a massive reminder not to get complacent about being prepared.

I'm incredibly lucky that our house is fine, I'm okay and my parents are okay. Compared to the damage the district has suffered, we're very fortunate.

I've heard of families who are shipping their kids out of the city for the meantime, but I'm staying put. The show must go on! I've got a job to do. Plus my folks are here

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