Happisburgh woman tells of New Zealand quake ordeal

A Norfolk woman caught up in the terrifying ordeal in Christchurch has paid tribute to the kindness of local people who rallied together in the aftermath of the quake.

Author Patrice Baldwin, 57, from Happisburgh, travelled to New Zealand to deliver a speech at the University of Christchurch in her capacity as world president of the International Drama Education Association.

Ms Baldwin was due to deliver a speech about drama in Norfolk schools. But having travelled more than 12,000 miles she was caught up in a drama of her own.

She explained: 'Just as I was about to begin speaking there was a deafening rumble and then an almighty crash and the whole building began shaking.

'I knew immediately it was an earthquake and dashed under chairs for cover and waited for the floor to stop swaying. We were all terrified the ceiling would collapse.'

Ms Baldwin's group, who were on the third floor, began leaving the building.

She said: 'On our way out we saw streams of smoke coming from the kitchens which were exploding. One of my colleagues was in the lift when it hit; it broke down and began filling with water. They had to force the doors open to rescue her.'

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Having escaped the shaking building the group joined hundreds of other evacuees on an area of grass which was moving with aftershocks.

She said: 'Everyone was petrified as rumours started spreading. We listened to a car radio and heard that the death toll was rising. Then our mobile phones failed. Eventually a call came through that described the centre of town like a war zone. I was in shock. If it had happened a few hours earlier I would have been eating dinner right in the epicentre.'

Mrs Baldwin began her journey to a friend's house. She said: 'The roads were full of water filled craters with cars that had fallen into them. Lamp posts were bent right over and many houses were totally missing their walls.'

At the coastal town she was instructed not to drink the water as it was contaminated.

Eventually she managed to get to the airport area only to find the emergency services drafted in from other countries had filled the hotels.

Ms Baldwin joined a group of people waiting in hotel lobbies for shelter when a couple offered to let her stay.

She said: 'People really pull together in times like this. The couple did not know me at all but opened up their home and cooked for me and all they charged me was an optional voluntary donation which they were going to put towards the earthquake repair fund.'