It was an amazing survival story, but Mairehe Louise Tankersley and her daughter Te Aowharepapa have struggled since escaping the CTV building collapse in 2011. Vicki Anderson reports.
A decade later, the terrifying cracking sound of the CTV building still haunts Christchurch earthquake survivor Louise Tankersley.
When the magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck 12.51 pm on February 22, 2011, she was leading a cultural awareness session on the fifth floor of the building with her 8-month-old baby, Te Uhiriba, in her arms.
It was a miraculous survival story.
“This is the permanent thing. Every day, I have this beautiful spirit in my life, and it is the light of my life, even on difficult days,” says Tankersley, of Kai Tahoe origin. “I think about it the most. I’m very grateful to be here.”
Read more: * Christchurch earthquake hero 10 years later: “ All I remember is one hell of noise ” * Meltdown: CTV first responders are proud to save lives despite rescue criticism * Then and now: February 2011 Christchurch earthquake in pictures
When the ground fell from under her and the building around her collapsed, Tankersley fell off her feet, broke ribs on either side of her chest and suffered severe bruising.
Dean Williams / Stuff
Mairehe Tankersley, left, and her daughter Te Aowharepapa Tankersley, 10. On February 22, 2011, they survived the collapse of the CTV building after a magnitude 6.2 earthquake.
Amidst the horror – blinded by the dust, the noise of the collapsing building and the screaming – she clung to her baby to protect her, using her body as a shield and making a conscious effort to straighten her legs to withstand the blows.
Mother and daughter “fell five floors down the street below.” Tankersley was covered in rubble and she could smell smoke, but her baby was safe.
Even now, when she closes her eyes and if she allows herself to, she can still see the light of the sky above her through a gap in the rubble and the hand of the hero who took Te Aowharepapa to safety, and carried her down a human chain to be embraced by a stranger on the street so she could join her.
The ten years that have passed since the miracle survived them have been a lonely and often difficult journey: “That day was the beginning of the nightmare.”
Through Tikanga Māori, she dedicated her career to helping people in Canterbury prisons get a second chance at a good life. It’s a job she “loves” that gives her hope and purpose.
Tankersley largely overcame PTSD and earthquake-induced anxiety, but it took many years and extensive treatment.
“It doesn’t dominate every minute of every day as it once did. Two periods of periods helped with the anxiety disorder unit. I had invasive PTSD … flashbacks and consuming anxiety about the death of T. Uhirpapa all the time, which lasted for years and years.” “
She was checking her sleeping daughter more than 30 times a night.
Phil Reed / Staff
The collapse of the CTV building killed 115 people.
She was driving with her daughter in the back of the car, terrified.
“I could see a truck coming and I was sitting there waiting, and it would roll in my head like a video: I was going to pull out, and the truck would hit the car and I would see it and how I would see,” Tankersley says, “Her death will be horrific.”
It was always horrific and bloody. It was related to the things I saw that day [of the earthquake] And the shock of thinking we are going to die. “
Months after the earthquake, the police put her backpack back, having been rescued from burning debris and the phone melting in the material.
Dean Williams / Stuff
Myri Louise Tankersley, left, watches her daughter T. O’Hearbaba Tankersley, 10, as she plays with Lunar the family cat.
They knew it was mine because my wallet was inside. It also melted completely, but they did manage to see my face in my driver’s license.
For a long time, Tankersley says she has had a “fatal outlook on life.”
“It was as if it didn’t really matter. For the ages, I would have thought that whatever building I entered would have fallen on us. I know a lot of people felt that and some still did.”
Talking about her experience isn’t something to take lightly. Ten years passed, but it took many years to prepare for this interview.
“I can’t even describe how deep the shock is, but people need to understand that it is still there for a lot of people,” she says.
We both survived, and I’m grateful for that. There were others who did not, and a lot of people have mental injuries and scars, which do not go away. “
Tankersley says NTO is a “multi-miracle” child.
“I waited a long time to get it. I was 42 when I was born. She’s an IVF baby, and I have it on my own.”
“She almost died in the womb before she was born. The amniotic fluid dried up, picked up through the examination at 34 weeks, and we went straight to the hospital for an emergency caesarean section, then I stayed in the NICU for a month.”
Then the earthquakes happened.
Like many children in Canterbury her age, T. Uherbaba finds comfort in fidgeting and soothing sensory games. She is artistic and enjoys writing.
Now 10, she has never known a time in her life without earthquakes. She is afraid of them.
Tankersley offered her daughter a gentle look at their survival experience and her protection from her emotional struggles, but at school two years ago she searched for her mother’s name on YouTube and discovered the enormity of their experience.
While playing happily with her cat Lunar, a black fur healing ball, Te Aowharepapa quietly talks about her concerns about her mother being injured or killed.
“She was always a careful and fearful child, which is interesting,” says Tankersley.
“I don’t know if that has anything to do with the earthquake, experts have told me that it likely is. She was definitely very quiet for a few weeks after this happened. She doesn’t like climbing and should be able to touch the ground when riding her bike.”
Tankersley still struggles to go downtown. It took years to drive through CTV and that was after months of exposure therapy.
It was also difficult to live with the guilt of the survivors.
People lost loved ones and this was terrible for them. But those who survived such a traumatic event … had a lingering effect as well, and until recently I don’t feel like this has been recognized.
Chris Skelton / Staff
Mairehe Louise Tankersley, from Kati Huikai Koukourarata (Port Levy) during Waitangi Day celebrations in Okains Bay in 2020.
It is important for her to put Bonamo on the CTV website.
“It is a place of my soul to me in terms of the events that happened, the people who died there and the experiences of the people there.
“It will be spiritual healing for you to have a pounamu there, and I hope it will eventually be approved by the existing authorities.”
She remembers speaking for the first time to the man she credits with saving her.
“His point of view was humble, he was doing what anyone would do, but this building was in a dangerous condition, and it was on fire.”
Sometimes people do harm without even intending to tell her that she “wandered into the building”.
“It was painful, it was terrifying. Please don’t talk that way.”
It’s been 10 years but even after all that long, it sometimes looks like it was only yesterday.
“I’m still struggling with my anxiety and mental health. The fear of losing Te Ao comes and goes, but it still exists. I still react really badly to the loud noises – it scares me,” says Tankersley.
“The rumbling sounds, trucks passing by, someone knocking something all of a sudden brings back that memory of that cracking sound, the sound that started that whole day, all the time.”
When you are almost missing the most important thing in your world, every day you are together is a miracle.
“I thank the stars every day I got it … Sometimes I think what life would be like if it didn’t survive and that exhausts me a lot, it’s so hard, I can’t think of that,” she says.
“Tell people that you love them, appreciate the love in your life, don’t take anything for granted. I don’t.”
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