- Associated Press - Monday, February 20, 2012

WELLINGTON, New ZealandJane Taylor was managing a women’s clothing store in downtown Christchurch a year ago when the earthquake struck. She was dug from the rubble within minutes with horrific injuries — her vertebrae were crushed, her skull was fractured and her pelvis smashed.

Like Taylor, many survivors of the Feb. 22 earthquake continue to feel the emotional and physical pain from the tragedy that left 185 people dead in New Zealand’s worst natural disaster in 80 years. Yet they are also rediscovering what it means to be part of a family and a community, and life is settling into familiar rhythms.

Taylor was in the hospital for three months, at first in an induced coma. But the 54-year-old says that in the months since, she has found strength from those around her, and has never considered leaving Christchurch.

“It’s our place of love,” she told the Associated Press. Of the fellow survivors she’s gotten to know, “each of us is inspired every day by each other.”

In many ways, the city remains a mess, a testament of the fury unleashed by the magnitude-6.1 temblor. The business district is a giant construction site. Thousands of homeowners have been told to leave their land after the government deemed entire neighborhoods too unstable to repopulate. And significant aftershocks jolt people’s confidence.

Yet, when Statistics New Zealand measured the population of Christchurch four months after the earthquake, it found it had declined by just 2.4 percent, down to 368,000.

Recalling that day, Taylor explained how she was in the store in the Cashel Street Mall when she felt a violent shaking and began running.

“The verandah upstairs basically landed on me,” she said. “Big blocks of concrete. I was bent over like a staple, my bum on the ground and my head on my feet.”

Two men dug her out from the rubble and moved her to a bench, but there was chaos all around and no way for an emergency vehicle to reach her.

“It was pretty shocking,” she said. “There was debris falling, dust filling my mouth and nostrils, people screaming.”

Taylor sat there for an hour, held upright at first by a friend and then by her husband, before a police car could get close and take her away.

After three months in the hospital and another three in physical therapy, she was able to walk unaided thanks to a titanium cage that doctors inserted to support her spine. These days, she has weakness in her pelvis and chronic pain but said she’s proud of her recovery and full mobility.

Despite the continuing aftershocks, she said she considers Christchurch her “safe haven” thanks to her family and friends. She said she believes she developed the emotional strength to handle her injuries after her 18-year-old son Alex was killed by a drunk driver four years ago.

“Your priorities change after something like that, and you realize that it’s your family and being together that’s so important,” Taylor said, adding that she and her husband, Shaun, “developed a closeness and a strength as a couple after that.”

Story Continues →