Pennsylvania Couple in New Zealand During Earthquake

Barbara Bolton was lying in bed beside her husband, David, in their AirBnB in New Zealand when she realized they were in the middle of an earthquake.

“Perhaps [David] was having a leg cramp,” Bolton told NBC10. “But, I realized almost instantly that the entire bed was shaking, the pendulum light over the bed was swinging in circles and all the small items were rattling on the tables.”

Barbara and David Bolton, from Kennett Square, Chester County, were on the South Island about an hour away from Christchurch, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the region. David is an Associate Professor at West Chester University and the trip to New Zealand came about during a research sabbatical at Avondale—a private college in New South Wales, Australia. Barbra joined David mid-October to experience Australia and accompany him on a ten day road trip through New Zealand.

The quake triggered landslides and a small tsunami on Monday just after midnight, and continued to shake the region with strong aftershocks. The quake caused significant damage across the island, cracking apart homes and roads, and left two people dead.

“The first tremor lasted only about a minute, but it seemed like an eternity when the ground made you feel as though you were on a roller coaster ride,” said Bolton.

Their first thought was to run outside of the house after the tremor. As they reached the backyard, their hostess said they should actually remain inside, as the house was built to withstand the stress of earthquakes.

“Within minutes of the first earthquake, we felt another, not quite as strong, but still significant,” said Bolton, recounting the moments they walked back inside the home. “I happened to be standing up when it started and needed to grab hold of the wall for support… It felt like being at sea.”

Bolton said they continually checked the internet to stay on top of any updates. They were told that they might continue to experience shocks, but “trying to return to bed and get some sleep would be the best thing.”

“So, to bed we headed,” said Bolton. “Just after that, we felt a third shock, but definitely milder, and shortly after that, we fell asleep.”

“I was very impressed with the information that came quickly about the location of the earthquake, the number and size of the aftershocks and the damage reports,” said Bolton as she recounted the morning following the quake. “There was no observable damage anywhere in the area we stayed or traveled. We were surprised at the calm responsiveness of the people that we interacted with. One person said, “It’s New Zealand—you get used to it!’”

The couple had plans to leave New Zealand that day and head back to Australia, and were able to take off after a 45 minute delay at the airport. However, since they left, they have heard there has been more than 1000 aftershocks still shaking the island and have seen photos of the devastation.

“We saw pictures on the news of the landslides that had completely buried main roads in and out of Kaikoura and heard that everyone was completely cut off,” explains Bolton. "Wellington, capital of New Zealand and located on the North Island, is a much larger city and seemed to be having even a greater amount of damage and evacuation issues."

Despite the devastation in areas around New Zealand, Barbara and David admit they were both impressed by how the government was handling the situation.

“Kaikoura residents and tourists are being evacuated through helicopter lifts, or, if they are remaining in the area, are being provided with water and necessary supplies,” said Bolton. “I think that the government is doing an admirable job in keeping ahead of the situation as best they can!”

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