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Friday, April 8, 2011

'I'm so incredibly lucky' - quake victim

'I'm so incredibly lucky' - quake victim

Last updated 13:21 09/04/2011
Helen Guiney can't believe what she's looking at when she sees herself on the front of the Nelson Mail.

The February 23 edition shows her emerging unsteadily with the help of rescuers from the Pyne Gould Corporation building destroyed in Christchurch's earthquake after being trapped for 20 hours.

However, the pain in her injured fingers reminds her that the experience was all too real.

Guiney requested a copy of the newspaper after a friend showed her the front page, and it arrived at her Papanui home yesterday.

In the six weeks since the quake, she has had part of her ring finger amputated, been to the funerals of six colleagues and goes to physiotherapy weekly. Now she shudders with any aftershock, winces with the cold that affects her injured fingers and is on pain relief every four hours.

Repeatedly she says she is lucky.

Looking at her picture in the paper she relives her ordeal.

"You need to talk about it. You need to realise you have been through it, it's not a dream, not a movie, it's a reality and for me talking about is part of the healing process," she said.

It's an horrific experience she might have avoided had she not returned early from lunch on February 22 because the weather wasn't that flash.

She was on the phone to another Perpetual Trust staff member in Auckland at 12.50pm when the building started shaking, she screamed and dived under a desk, equipment fell around her and the power went out.

It was pitch black but she knew two of her fingers were crushed. "I was sort of numb, I could not believe it was happening, I tried to figure out how to get out and realised I was stuck."

Her cellphone rang but she could not reach it with her injured left hand. It was shouts from another trapped colleague, Jim Faithfull, that kept her going.

"I don't know if I would have remained as calm if I was completely alone, I think I would have gone off the deep end," she said.

They yelled for help, but nobody responded.

"It was very quiet, very quiet," she recalls. The silence was interrupted with tremors but she either passed out or slept for a bit.

"We didn't know the state of the building, we just knew we were trapped and then the rescuers made contact with Jim, who was closer to a window and they couldn't hear me at all."

About 1am, her husband, Ian, who had been at the building since 2pm, got the joyful news he'd been waiting for that she was alive, but there was still a wait.

She was able to use the handset from her office phone to bang SOS against her steel desk to alert the rescuers to her location, and finally she could see their torchlight and she kicked at the rubble so they could find her. They managed to clear a space big enough for her to wriggle through and help her clamber out.

Now she looks at the front page and sees herself concentrating hard on where to put her feet amongst the crushed concrete. "It's so surreal, I can't believe it."

She lost 10 colleagues and several others are still in hospital. "I'm so incredibly lucky."

Lucky to be reunited with daughter Hayley who rushed from Dunedin, and son Lyall who broke down at the news and flew from London. And fortunate their Papanui home isn't badly damaged.

Faithfull's family has also come from England to see him as he recovers from cracked vertebrae.

Guiney says the top of her wishlist is to meet her rescuers and thank them again. The accounts administrator also wants to return to work, to keep her mind active and to pay the mortgage and bills.

The firm is working out of temporary premises in Hornby and will be moving to another. She said she would return to work when her surgeon gave the go-ahead. 

- The Nelson Mail

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