Christchurch earthquake survivor recalls being buried beneath rubble with brother after quake hit

Amy Cooney inadvertently became one of the faces of the February earthquake in Christchurch after it struck in 2011, albeit a face left battered and bruised after being buried beneath rubble.

When rescuers found her, she was still clutching the hand of her brother, Jaime Gilbert, who didn't survive.

It was one of the rawest images from that day ten years ago. Cooney was bleeding, dazed, and calling for her brother.

They'd both run from the bar they'd been working in. As the building collapsed, Gilbert used his body to shield Cooney. She survived, but he didn't.

"Strangely enough we still managed to hold hands under the rubble," Cooney said in 2011.

"I was knocked out and as I came round the first thing I could feel was I still had my bro's hand, and I think was the one thing that stopped me from panicking and totally losing the plot was that I still had my bro's hand."

The concrete and chaos have been replaced with paving stones and a memorial plaque made by the family. Every February 22, at 12:51pm, the time the earthquake struck, Cooney is there.

"This year's probably hit me a little bit harder than some of the other years and it's particularly hard without my mother and my brother who live in Brisbane who can't come because of COVID," she says.

Cooney's courage and commitment to honouring her brother will see her through. Lucky to be alive, she's getting on with living, just as her brother would have wanted, she says.

"He'd rather us be happy than sad or traumatised and stuck in grief. He was a happy-go-lucky kind of positive guy, so we need to take that from him and put that into your life."

Life in Christchurch has changed forever. It's never been about picking up the pieces and getting on with it - the pieces were too big and too many. But the city is getting there.

"Some of the new buildings and life that's going on is fantastic, but then there's these great gaping wounds that are still there that are symbolic of the pain and the violence that day," Robert Gilbert, Jaime's dad, says.

The past decade has been a time of healing for Amy, for her family, and Christchurch. It's taken a concerted effort by all to survive, and thrive, to look forward but not forget.