“We thought it was all over,” Ebert, 43, said in a telephone interview from his office in Wellington today, recounting the experience at the weekend. “I’ve bungee jumped and white-water rafted and the fear factor was way beyond that. You genuinely feared for your life because you had no control.”
Ebert said his room three floors from the top of the 26-story Hotel Grand Chancellor, in the heart of the central business district, is “probably the tallest part” of New Zealand’s second-largest city. He was staying in the area after delivering a presentation to a local property institute on Sept. 3, and was woken by the quake around 4:35 a.m. local time.
“It felt awful -- the noise and the swaying and I was convinced something was going to break or crumble,” Ebert said.
He said he was “frozen, stuck on the bed trying not to fall off, hoping like hell nothing would snap or crumble.”
Next “we made the decision to throw on some clothes and make our way down the stairs by the light of our cell phones.”
The South Island city of about 348,000 people was placed under a state of emergency after the quake struck, cutting power, damaging roads, rupturing sewer lines and water pipes and ripping facades off buildings. The damage is estimated at NZ$2 billion ($1.4 billion).
Ebert said the timing of the temblor had been quite fortunate as it was after people had left the city’s pubs and restaurants and before they returned for morning shopping.
“Had it happened a few hours earlier or later there would have almost definitely been fatalities given the way the buildings crumbled,” he said.
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