Tuesday, March 22, 2011


The last month has been the most trying in my whole life. The earthquake was the easiest to contend with. The shop held together and the contents survived relatively intact. I live above the shop with my family and apart from some missing sections of walls, we got off lightly compared with other buildings in our area.
When a roll call of friends and family, shop owners and associates in the area confirmed everyone was safe, we left the area for safer pastures.
Several days later when the enormity of the situation in Christchurch had truly sunk in and the fact that we had nowhere to live, no clothes, no bank cards or ID we were informed that our building was on the list of buildings to be demolished that day!
A demolition contractor managed to get me through the cordon so I could watch the shop being demolished and possibly save something. When I arrived there was a USAR team several police officers and an excavator outside my shop. I waited for an hour , nothing happened. I chatted with the police and the USAR team to pass the time then the head of the USAR team said “OK you have 10 minutes to grab what you can'. I was greatful of the opportunity. The time went quickly and I retrived a pile of small items on the footpath opposite the shop. The excavator driver arrived, started the engine and pulled the front off the shop next door then drove the excavator away! “OK you can have another 10 minutes”. The USAR team and police then left and I arranged for a truck and took the small amount of belongings to a safe place.
I was then “detained” by another policeman who called his sergent who proceeded to take me back to headquarters for processing. He was from out of town and was not quite sure how to get there.
I pointed him in the right direction, but on the way had a change of heart and returned me to the shop so I could remove my items.
That night I rallied support through facebook, and detailed my plight on my blog.
Support from all quarters was instant.
A few days later I had a ring from civil defence to inform me that my building was to be “deconstructed to allow a USAR team to do a sweep of the area.”
I said I doubted that was true as I had sat with a USAR team outside my shop two days before and
there was not mention of a sweep of the area. I also insisted that I needed more time to remove important historical items still in the shop. The caller said he would check with USAR and get back to me.
A week passed with no contact except for the odd wellwisher inside the cordon ringing to say that the shop was still there. Still hope.
On Monday another phone call, this time from USAR asking what it was I wanted from the shop and where exactly was it? The shop was coming down as it was dangerous. Again I explained that there were quite a few important items and locating them if to those were not familiar with them would be difficult. He said how long would it take me to get there? I was there in 10 minuites.
When I arrived there was a 44 gallon drum ouside the shop for my possessions and another excavator. The USAR man had a look in the shop then said that they wouldn't be able to get much in the drum. We waited for the driver to arrive. The USAR leader then said OK we may as well start. “What do you want”. I hesitated trying to decide what to choose. “I suppose you would like every thing?” I nodded. The USAR team then started to carry items from the shop. The pile quickly grew. This was beyond my wildest dreams.
The excavator driver returned, someone gave me a piece of paper to sign saying I was happy with 20 minutes to salvage items. I was not happy but I signed.
The excavator driver took instruction from the USAR leader they started to remove loose masonry from the front and the side of the shop. After 15 minutes he was finished. He was the most careful excavator opperator I have ever seen! He had removed the loose portions almost brick by brick.
I was amazed, the shop was still there!
The USAR team packed up wished me well and left me very happy on the side of the road with what seemed like a mountain of items I thought would have been turned to dust along with the rest of the CBD.
I had managed to salvage most of the important New Zealand historical items which can not be replaced. They even saved our goldfish wo was still alive after 3 weeks in his bowl half full of water surrounded with pieces of broken brick.
I have that USAR team to thank for their common sense in a difficult situation, the media who drew attention to the situation and the many people who raised there voices in support of Portobello Antiques.
I wish all the other business owners in the CBD as much luck I have had in salvaging their futures.
I urge them to keep trying because”it's not over till it's over”.
I will open shop again sometime in the future but in the meantime will devote my time to providing valuations and restoration advice to the good people of Christchurch who have lost treasured items in the recent devestating earthquakes. I will be operating from 10 Grassmere Street
in Papanui, tel 3771772, or email portobello@woosh.co.nz

1 comment:

Patricia said...

Wow! That's quite a story - so pleased it had a happy (sort of) ending. We will be in touch to get some valuations done soon. Our very best wishes for the future to you and your family.
Pat & Brian Carswell