Quake terror

Richard Hammill, assistant manager and clerk of Pontefract Racecourse,who was in New Zealand when the earthquake struck
Richard Hammill, assistant manager and clerk of Pontefract Racecourse,who was in New Zealand when the earthquake struck

PONTEFRACT Racecourse boss Richard Hammill says he’s “lucky to be alive” after being caught up in the Christchurch earthquake while on holiday in New Zealand.

Mr Hammill, 34, assistant manager and clerk of Pontefract Racecourse, was visiting the city as part of a two-month travelling trip with a friend when the earthquake – which killed more than 160 people, including three Britons – struck on February 22.

Mr Hammill, who was back at work this week, said: “The power of the quake was so scary. I am definitely lucky to be alive after what happened.

“We were due to fly out of the island that day and left our bags at the hotel while we went into the town to pass some time before our flight.

“We’d just walked into a food court when suddenly it started. There was a loud rumble at first that lasted about two seconds before the ground started to shake. The power went off, the lights went out, and everyone just started to run.

“We ran for cover under a food counter. It was quite obvious what was happening but because we don’t get them over here we just didn’t know what to do. Some people were telling us to run, others were telling us to stay where we were, but we just ran out of the building.

“We started walking towards the cathedral and we could see that it had fallen down.

“There was so much damage, glass had come out of windows, cars had crashed, there were people on the floor and people running and screaming.

“It was terrifying. When we were looking at the damage, that’s when the first big aftershock came and threw us to the floor.”

The city centre was cordoned off and Mr Hammill was unable to get back to his hotel to collect his bag.

He added: “It was the only day we had taken our passports out with us, which was so fortunate.

“I text my mum to let her know that we were alright because I knew she’d see it on the news when she woke up. We had to report to the British Embassy because for a short time we were on the list of missing people. It was so strange.”

After a night’s stay with a local resident and repeated trips to the airport to check for outgoing flights, Mr Hammill was able to fly out to Auckland for a connecting flight home.

He said: “I was relieved to be flying home but when we left it was a funny feeling.

“We had been part of something and it was sad that we were leaving in a way. We had met so many people who would be staying to live through the aftermath and we were flying home.

“The only positive thing about it was the people of New Zealand who were so kind. Everyone was helping each other, we got lifts to and from the airport, and we were given a place to stay. The people there were really amazing.”