COUNTY NEWS: Couple caught up in earthquake '˜feared death'

A married couple from Sussex who were caught up in the New Zealand earthquake have spoken about the terrifying moment when they thought they were going to die.

Monday, 21st November 2016, 1:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:19 pm
Ben and Pam Awcock with their replacement campervan in New Zealand

Ben and Pam Awcock, from Haywards Heath, who were enjoying a two-week campervan holiday in New Zealand, said they were ‘awoken violently’ by the terrifying quake, which struck after midnight, last Monday (November 14).

The couple said they were ‘thrown about’ inside their campervan.

“In all honesty, I did think we were going to die that night,” said Ben, 53, a freelance management consultant.

A picture of the damage taken by Ben after the quake struck last Monday (November 14)

He added: “My initial thought was that the tide had come in overnight and we were being dragged out to sea. The next two minutes was a real living hell and we were totally disorientated.

“When the ground stopped shaking, we looked out of our window and all the other camper vans were in the same place, ours too.”

The duo made a decision to drive away ‘quickly’ because they both feared a tsunami. However, they soon discovered that they could not escape.

“The slip road to exit our small parking area was completely broken up and we were stranded where we were,” Ben said.

The couple discovered they could not escape after the quake struck

“The main road was also split in several places and there were two massive landslides about 500 metres either side of us.

“The sea bed had risen two metres as a result of the earthquake and there was a mass of dead fish and stranded crayfish all around us. One seal had a nasty cut, but the rest seemed fine.”

The couple arrived in New Zealand last Saturday (November 12) and had planned to tour the South Island, stopping off in Hanmer Springs first.

They made the decision to drive to Kiakoura for lunch and intended to drive to Picton for the night. However on route, they decided to stop at a coastal seal colony, 30 kilometres north of Kiakoura on the sea’s edge, for the night, along with five other european campervan holiday makers.

The couple were air lifted to safety, along with other holidaymakers, who were all forced to abandon their campervans

None of them had anticipated that there was going to be an earthquake.

“We decided to stay the night in this ideallic spot. It was quiet and beautiful – there was no expectation of an earthquake, it was a surprise to everyone.”

The couple were soon air lifted to safety, along with other holidaymakers, who were all forced to abandon their campervans, which Ben said they will not be able to collect until Christmas ‘at the earliest’.

“Three helicopters landed in our location over six hours to make sure we were all ok.

“Two of us, including me, had small cuts and bruises, but they had assured us that the Civil Defence knew we were there.

“The people of New Zealand who helped us in our plight have been nothing short of fantastic, and we would like to say a special thanks to police officer Al Hendrickson who looked after all of our needs, made sure we were fed and watered and organised a free bus to take us to the the nearest big town, Blenheim.”

Despite the terrifying experience, Ben and Pam are continuing their trip down the West Coast, after landing an upgraded campervan at no extra cost.

After the crisis, the couple called their campervan company, G&J Camping, based in Christchurch, who organised free fights for them, from Blenheim to Wellington, and back to Christchurch, where they were welcomed by the new six-birth camper.

“We are now continuing our trip the best we can, down the West Coast, but some places such as Picton and Nelson have been struck off our itinerary, as the roads including Lewis Pass are too dangerous,” Ben said.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed two in the South Island and has been described as one of the country’s ‘most powerful earthquakes’.

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