New Brunswick

New Zealand earthquake emotionally rattles former New Brunswicker

Two minutes of intense uncertainty kept New Brunswick-born James Cliff pinned in his bed as New Zealand was struck by a powerful earthquake just before midnight Sunday.

'You're kind of on edge': James Cliff rides out 7.8-magnitude quake in the dark

Groceries litter the aisle at a store in Wellington after a major earthquake struck New Zealand's South Island early Monday. (Ross Setford/SNP via AP)

Two minutes of intense uncertainty kept New Brunswick-born James Cliff pinned in his bed as New Zealand was struck by a powerful earthquake just before midnight Sunday.

Cliff, who moved from Moncton 18 years ago and lives in the town of Blenheim, on New Zealand's South Island, recounted his ordeal after a near-sleepless night complete with a tsunami warning and frequent aftershocks.

"When it kind of starts, there's just this violent shaking of the wooden frame of your house around you," the married 47-year-old said. "And you don't know. You're listening intently to the shaking. What is this rumbling noise? Is it just the house or is it something else? You're in the dark. You're trying to make some sense of where the noise is coming from and try to know what would be the right thing to do."

A lesson from the Maritimes

Items crashed around the house, including drawers shaking out of a dresser, and the power went out. But Cliff and his wife, Robyn, can count themselves lucky for escaping unscathed: the 7.8-magnitude quake killed at least two people, including one person in Kaikoura, about 130 km away.

James Cliff said the earthquake gave him pause about being away from his wife for work. (James Cliff)

In the moment of the quake, the couple responded to the shaking only by calling for their dog, Fern. 

Frequent Maritimes power outages taught Cliff to put on his shoes before walking around in the dark, he said.

He eventually left the house and, despite tsunami warnings issued after the quake, never heard the telltale siren in Blenheim. 

"If we had heard that, we should have been running for the hills, literally," he said.​

New Zealanders dealt with aftershocks every two to five minutes at first, though those had slowed to every 15 or 20 minutes around daybreak Monday.

'You don't know'

Cliff contacted family members in Saint John and Moncton, and used Facebook's safety check feature to say he was OK. Though he and his wife weren't hurt, there's an emotional toll.

"Emotionally you're kind of on edge," he said. "You're in a heightened state of alert. You kind of hope, 'Oh that was the big one.' But you don't know."

He said the earthquake — the most powerful he's experienced in New Zealand — gives him pause about how easy it could be to be trapped away from his wife if he was travelling for work.

James Cliff's home suffered some minor damage. (James Cliff)

Cliff said the next step is to see if the quake did any significant damage to the house.

Supermarkets seemed to take the worst of it Blenheim, he said. 

"It's a wine-drinking area. So there's just images of these beautiful bottles of red smashed all over the aisles."

In a bit of a coincidence, Cliff said that when they fled the house they met somebody outside from McAdam, N.B., which has had a "swarm" of minor earthquakes in 2016

When asked if he had a message for people in New Brunswick, Cliff said, "Just let them know that Jamie Cliff is safe and sound in New Zealand and hope that the little quakes in McAdam ease as well."