Great Cornard: Son of Suffolk veteran describes terrifying NZ quake ordeal

WHEN Gerry Browne from Great Cornard saw the images of destruction caused by the New Zealand earthquake he endured an anxious wait to hear from his son who moved to Christchurch 40 years ago.

The 92-year-old war vetaran, who fought on the beaches of Normandy, was with his wife Marjorie at their Broom Street home when they got a call to say his son David Browne, his daughter-in-law Sylvia and all their grandchildren and great grandchildren were safe.

Speaking to the EADT yesterday from his Christchurch home Mr Browne, 62, who moved to New Zealand in 1971, described the terrifying moment the earthquake hit.

He said he was sitting outside the Bangalore Polo Club cafe in central Christchurch with some of his business colleagues when it struck without warning.

He said: “It was utterly terrifying. There was nothing, no slight tremor to begin with, it just hit like a thunderbolt and within seconds buildings were falling all around us. We all tried to get up and run but were thrown to the ground. When I tried to get up I was thrown straight back down. The facades of buildings were collapsing all around us and the noise was tremendous.

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“When I looked up there were people screaming and many people had terrible injuries caused by falling masonry.”

Mr Browne, who is married with three sons and six grandchildren, said he watched in horror as parts of the cathedral began falling down as the city collapsed.

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“Thankfully I managed to avoid injury, it was just lucky that we were outdoors,” he added.

At the moment the earthquake hit Mr Browne was discussing business opportunities to repair buildings damaged in last September’s earthquake, through his company which covers a range of construction work, from gas pipeline supplies to air conditioning systems.

He said: “There is still a lot of work to do from the last one but this has hit everyone much harder. There are many people questioning if they will stay now. We have no power or water in our house and we are boiling water from the swimming pool to drink. Thankfully our home is in tact but just two streets away there are houses that have sunk into the ground.”

Apart from the destruction of buildings he said the general infrastructure had taken a terrible battering.

“I tried to drive a few kilometres today and it took me four hours. There are huge potholes in the roads, some so big entire trucks have dropped into them.”

He said friends of the family had lost children, and staff at his own company had been injured and one man killed when they ran out of the building they worked in only to be hit with masonry from an office across the road.

His father Gerry said it was a terrifying moment when they saw the TV images and realised the severity of the earthquake.

He said: “It is terrible and we were very worried. Thankfully David and all the family are safe. We have visited many times and it is a beautiful country but is obviously in a very volatile part of the world.”

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