Punahou School graduate Kelly Aldinger was shopping for groceries in Christ-church, New Zealand, on Tuesday when the store’s shelves suddenly started moving and glass jars began crashing in front of her.
"It was something out of a horror movie — when you see the buildings around you, you never quite imagine there could be something strong enough to move them like that," Aldinger, 23, wrote in an e-mail to the Star-Advertiser. "The walls and shelves were swaying and rocking like they were made of grass."
Aldinger, who grew up in Manoa, left Hawaii on Jan. 28 for a solo, three-month, backpacking "walkabout" through New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam, according to her mother, Charlie Aldinger of Manoa.
Kelly Aldinger had just met two female travelers — from Germany and Iceland — and they were all shopping for provisions for a camping trip in a Christ-church Pak ‘N Save store when the magnitude 6.3 quake hit, killing an estimated 145 people and leaving hundreds missing.
When she heard about the quake, Charlie Aldinger desperately tried to reach her daughter 4,800 miles away, but the phone lines were busy.
"It was a scary couple of hours when I didn’t know where she was," Charlie Aldinger said.
Finally, Kelly was able to get out a text message that essentially said, "I’m OK, I’m fine and I’m safe and I’m heading out of Christ-church," Charlie remembered.
Kelly Aldinger now calls Portland, Ore., home and works as a counselor taking at-risk youths into the wilderness for six-week therapy programs, Charlie Aldinger said.
Kelly’s used to handling herself outdoors, her mother said, but was powerless in the wake of a killer earthquake.
"We were in the bread aisle, so we grabbed hold of each other and just stood there as the shelves around us bowed and swayed, sending jars and cans crashing in front of us," Kelly wrote in her e-mail. "There were screams and sirens filling the background, but we were all just in shock and stayed where we were until it passed. We stood there for about a minute until store personnel ushered us out into the parking lot."
The women were in their car when powerful aftershocks started rumbling through the city.
"The car shook, and all around us the asphalt just started crumbling, cracking and bending up. … I feel so lucky to be alive — I’d spent the last four days walking around Christchurch, through the streets that now only contain rubble and bodies," Kelly wrote.