Ex-pats’ miracle New Zealand earthquake escape

Sue Neal with husband Mark and mother-in-law Terri Siani
Sue Neal with husband Mark and mother-in-law Terri Siani

TWO Hartlepool ex-pats spoke today of their amazing escape from New Zealand’s deadly earthquake.

Sue Neal always celebrates her birthday in Christchurch, which was the epicentre of the devastating quake, with her husband Mark on the day tragedy struck.

But because she had guests visiting from Hartlepool, including her mother-in-law, Terri Siani, she chose to stay at home, several miles away – a decision which could have saved her life.

Mum-of-two Sue, 45, said: “We are just thanking our lucky stars we were where we were.”

The earthquake, which measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, has claimed the lives of more than 98 people and left hundreds more trapped in crumbling buildings.

A state of emergency has been declared in the country after the quake on Tuesday, which even saw one of Sue’s friends trapped for two hours in a demolished building.

Sue, 45, who emigrated with her family four years ago, said: “We would have been in the city if my mother in law hadn’t been here.

“It was my birthday and my husband and I would normally go into the city to celebrate by having a meal.

“We didn’t because we were entertaining and doing other things.

“That has been my saving grace.”

Sue, who is married to airport worker Mark, 46, who is originally from the Rift House area of Hartlepool, said she felt tremors from her home in the town of Rolleston, but originally did not think much of it.

They had experienced numerous aftershocks from a previous earthquake last September.

But the carnage it caused in Christchurch just 15 miles away soon became clear, where buildings had crumbled to the ground, leaving hundreds of people trapped and missing.

The mum of two, who works as a prison officer, said: “We were sat at home having lunch when we felt it, but it was only when it got stronger and stronger we knew it was pretty bad.

“The city is just absolutely devastated. Our hearts go out to all the people who have been affected by this.

“I’ve got friends and colleagues who have lost houses.”

It proved a frightening experience for Mark’s mum Terri, 63, from Seaton Carew, who had visited Christchurch only the previous day.

One of Sue’s friends was trapped for two-and-a-half-hours in a destroyed building while another watched from his car as a building sunk into the ground when the tremors struck.

The family have been inundated with messages from worried friends and family back home in Hartlepool since the disaster.

Sue, mum to 18-year-old Becci and Shannon, 13, told how food and petrol are running out as the near harbour port of Lyttleton was also hit.

But despite everything that has happened she said they would never consider leaving New Zealand.

“We absolutely adore it,” she said: “The city is so quaint and the people are fantastic.

“I’m sure the resilience will be there and we will build it up again, but it looks like it is going to be a long haul.”