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Skaken, but alive

Oxford grad experiences New Zealand quake

Cervantez (click for larger version)
March 02, 2011 - An Oxford resident studying abroad got a firsthand lesson in natural disasters when she found herself smack dab in the middle of a massive earthquake last week.

"It was the scariest day of my life," said Amber Cervantez, a 2005 graduate of Oxford High School and current student at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills.

Cervantez was camera shopping with a friend Carolyn Giordano, of Rochester, New York in downtown Christchurch, New Zealand Tuesday, Feb. 22 when a 6.3-magnitude tremor devastated the city, killing 148 people.

"When it happened, we just grabbed each other and held on and it ended up knocking us to the floor," Cervantez wrote in an e-mail to the Leader. "Everything was falling off shelves and walls."

Cervantez arrived in Christchurch just three days prior to the earthquake as part of a group of students studying international law in Australia and New Zealand.

To escape the falling items, Cervantez and her friend ran into the middle of the street.

Amber Cervantez, a 2005 OHS grad, was there when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand on Feb. 22. Here are some of the photos she snapped showing the devastation left behind by the massive tremor and its aftershocks. (click for larger version)
"At this point, we were a little shaken up," she wrote. "A local man really helped us by giving us a hug and telling us to stay in the middle of the street and which way we should go."

Unfortunately, the terrifying experience wasn't over yet.

"We started heading down the street and people were running past us, pointing at unstable buildings around us, so we started to run faster," Cervantez wrote. "This is when a big aftershock hit. It made the buildings to our left and right fall more."

Some building pieces fell on top of people who were digging through the rubble from the initial quake.

Cervantez and her friend ran to the park because there were no tall buildings there. From there, they walked back to the townhouses where they were staying.

"The walk home was crazy," she wrote.

The earthquake had substantially weakened the roads to the point where they behaved like liquids.

(click for larger version)
"There were continuous aftershocks the rest of the day (including) some big ones," Cervantez wrote. "It continued throughout the night. I think everyone took a series of mini-naps between each quake."

Fortunately, the townhouses where she was staying were still standing because they were constructed to withstand a 9.5-magnitude earthquake.

Cervantez was evacuated the next morning to Wellington, New Zealand, which is about 210 miles to the north.

"Everyone in the process was very nice," she wrote. "They gave us water and food throughout the evacuation process, which was long. The New Zealand Air Force was very nice and the evacuation process went pretty smooth."

During the evacuation, Cervantez and her fellow students had to leave most of their belongings behind as they could only take a backpack with them.

"We are not sure if we will ever see our luggage again. If we do, it may be a long time (from now)," she wrote. "Some people didn't even have a backpack of stuff with them."

Fortunately, they were able to obtain some clothing that was donated to a welfare center set up to help earthquake victims.

"Most of us felt bad because we felt like others needed it more than us, but, in reality, it was there for us to take advantage of," Cervantez wrote.

Cervantez and a few others decided to stay for a couple weeks to tour the rest of New Zealand.

"The next few weeks will be an adventure for sure," she wrote. "We are going to try to have a good time. It sucks we had to leave so much behind, but this makes you (focus on) what is really important. It's just money. All 30-plus people in our program made it out safe, which is the most important thing."

The whole experience traumatized Cervantez and her fellow students.

"I will say that things won't be the same for a while," she wrote. "Our nerves go crazy sometimes and our hearts race. While we walk throughout the city (of Wellington), we are looking around for a possible escape route, and we feel (the ground) shaking when (it isn't). It has gotten better, but (it) affected us more than I thought it would."

Back home, Kimberly Cervantez was extremely grateful her daughter immediately contacted her after the earthquake hit to let her know she was safe.

"She called me as soon as it happened once she got into the street," Kimberly said. "She thought she'd call me first before I saw it on the news."

"She was pretty shook up, but she kept me informed the whole time until she was evacuated from the area."

Kimberly had a delayed reaction to the whole situation.

"It was three or four days later when it hit me," she said. "When I saw it on TV, I broke down. It was overwhelming. It was heart-wrenching."

"I was just glad she was okay because Lord knows it could have been worse."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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