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Monday, March 7, 2011

Broken vista haunts mayor

Broken vista haunts mayor

Last updated 05:00 08/03/2011
Two weeks on from an earthquake that tore the city apart and catapulted Christchurch into international headlines, the weathered and sleep-deprived mayor remains haunted by a vision of his broken city.

"I am trapped with a video of September 4 and a video of February 22 and nothing will make that go away," says Bob Parker.

"It is something no-one wants to remember, but I will never forget.

"I just can't escape the thought of why us? Why our city? Why twice?" he told The Press yesterday.

Parker was on the balcony on the top floor of the Christchurch City Council building when the latest quake struck. "It was just like being slammed by a freight train, going from 0 kilometres to 100 kilometres instantly."

He was thrown into the air and came down on the edge of a sharp table in the furious shaking, severely bruising his ribs.

And as he stood up and looked out over his city he faced a horrific sight. "I just about lost it at that moment," he said, raw with emotion.

"There was a cloud of dust over the city and I could hear the screams of shock from the streets below. A huge billowing cloud of dust was rising and that meant buildings had collapsed. It was the most horrendous feeling going out into the city knowing there could be a number of casualties."

Parker tried to restore order to his shattered city and establish a Civil Defence headquarters within minutes of the earthquake.

It wasn't until midnight that he was able to contact his son, grandchildren and parents who live in areas heavily hit by the quake.

"I knew I wouldn't help anyone by panicking. The city was just in chaos, there was no way I could reach them and I had a job to do, sometimes it's just best to stick your head down and do what you have got to do."

Parker said that as mayor of a city, "you have to be ready to take whatever is thrown at you."

While most of Christchurch has been kept relatively sheltered since the earthquake, locked out of the destruction in the central business district, Parker and his wife Jo Nicholls-Parker have immersed themselves in the recovery.

Running on adrenaline the couple have arrived at the earthquake headquarters at 5.30am every day since the quake, only returning home after dark.

The pair "prayed for a miracle" as they watched rescue efforts, comforted desperate families, visited shattered suburbs and faced up to hundreds of national and international media crews.

Along with thousands of Christchurch residents, the couple were without water and power, unable to shower or watch the news for eight days.

"It felt as though the rest of the country knew more about what was happening than us in that first week," Nicholls-Parker said.

The mayoress described it as "camping" in her own home and said it was humorous having to shower at Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button's house.

The couple's reinforced concrete and steel warehouse in the central city escaped nearly unscathed in the earthquake, except for a sea of broken glass across the floor which was left for over a week as they focused their attention on the devastated city.

Nicholls-Parker said it was her husband's duty to lift the city's morale and keep going.

"He lives and breathes this job and always has. And this place just has to keep going," she said

- The Press

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