A RUGBY man says he is lucky to be alive after being in the centre of Christchurch when the devastating earthquake ruined the city.
Dave Sutch, 72, took part in a memorial service in New Zealand on Tuesday, knowing full well he could easily have been among the victims.
“It was the most terrifying experience of my life,” he said.
“I am very lucky to be alive.”
Mr Sutch, of Portland Road, said when the earthquake struck the green grass turned black before his eyes along with the crystal clear river.
He is on holiday with his sister Linda Grant, who lives in Coventry, and is due to return in April.
Mr Sutch said: “The first night we went into the city we had a lovely meal at one of the popular restaurants.”
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n TThe next day we drove into town and parked in a multi-storey car park in the centre of town.”
He said they visited a few shops before heading to Cathedral Square.
“We decided not to go inside the cathedral and went for a ride in one of the trams. We got off at one of the stops for coffee and cake, then onto another tram before getting off at Victoria Square Gardens.”
Mr Sutch added: “We were looking at a statue of Queen Victoria when all of a sudden the ground began to shake. It got progressively more violent so much so that we could hardly stand up.
“We thought going under a tree was a good idea but that was shaking more than us so we just stayed on the grass. After about 90 seconds it stopped.”
“Suddenly the park began to fill with people coming from everywhere. Then there was another violent aftershock, which lasted another minute.
“A massive cloud of dust then came funnelling down some of the streets from the collapsed buildings.”
The cathedral spire had collapsed trapping at least 20 people inside.
The shell shocked brother and sister stayed in the park for about an hour and watched in horror as grey muddy water started spraying up from the grass and the block paving.
He added: “The crystal clear Avon River was now fast flowing black water. We were all told eventually to leave the park and as we walked back towards the motel we could see lots of damage, roads, tram lines buckled, buildings collapsed.”
It took the holidaymakers nearly two hours to walk to safety from the disaster zone, during which there were many more aftershocks.
“When we reached the motel there was no water or electricity,” said Mr Sutch.
“It was an awful night with continuing shocks. I lay on the bed fully clothed ready for a quick exit if needed. The following morning we had to hire another car, as our first one was still in the car park.”
Mr Sutch said since the first earthquake there has been at least another 500 aftershocks.
“We got away from Christchurch as quickly as we could and are now safely back in the north island staying with our sister Penny. We are feeling very lucky and thankfully can still enjoy the rest of our holiday in New Zealand.”
Demolition work has taken place on buildings and rescue workers are still looking for signs of life.
Police believe the final number of deaths will be around 250.
Mr Sutch’s son Kim, of Southfield Road, Rugby, said: “My dad didn’t want to go to the cathedral that day and it was a decision that probably saved his life.
“The first I knew about it was when I got a text from dad saying ‘we are both OK’. I didn’t even know he was going to be in the south that day so I didn’t really know what he was talking about.”
Kim, who is married to Mandy and has a daughter, Jess, said: “My dad and his sister took a tram that day rather than going to the cathedral.
We’re so glad they did.”