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Family’s great quake escape

By Jake Beleski

[email protected]

A family of five was forced to jump from their second-storey balcony as their homestead threatened to collapse around them during Monday’s quake.

As most of the country began to shake violently, David McKenzie made an instinctive decision that may have saved his young family from dire consequences at their property near Culverden – close to the quake’s epicentre.

“We woke to the house shaking, and got up and got thrown around,” he said.

“We have an old two-storey homestead and obviously it was a pretty violent shake so we realised we had to get out as quickly as we could.

“Our house has a second-storey balcony and we grabbed the three children from their bedrooms and made the decision that we weren’t going to go back into the house.”

The family made a narrow escape from their second-storey balcony. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
The family made a narrow escape from their second-storey balcony. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Mr McKenzie, son of former Masterton deputy mayor Roddy McKenzie and his wife Jan, was faced with two options to get his family to safety – head back into the house and risk everything to get downstairs to the door, or jump off the balcony.

Instinct took over, and getting his children, aged seven, five and four, to safety became the only priority.

“Just under our balcony there is a peak, so we jumped over the balcony and slid down that.

“I went first and jumped out onto the ground. Jo [David’s wife] stayed up and put the kids over the edge and I caught them.”

It was easy to look back and assess whether a different decision may have worked better, but there had been no time to think, he said.

“In hindsight had we gone through the middle of the house I’m not sure if we would have been harmed or not, but the way the house was shaking we didn’t want to get to the bottom and find we couldn’t get out, or the doors were jammed.”

Whether the family homestead could be saved or not was unknown, but there was a feeling too much damage had been done.

“The property itself is pretty good, compared to some other places.

“Mostly it’s just the homestead – the chimneys have crashed down and there are a lot of smashed windows but other than that we’re fairly fortunate. We’re certainly not the only homestead that bore the brunt of the quake.”

He remained philosophical despite the devastation the earthquake had caused, and the damage inflicted on their home.

There was one part of the quake that would stick with him for a long time, he said.

“The noise was deafening and probably the scariest part of the whole thing.

“You certainly have a lot of respect for what the people in Christchurch went through a few years ago – you really don’t have any time to react.”

The safety of his family was worth far more than salvaging their home, he said.

“I think once we actually got out and shook ourselves and realised we were all pretty good, it puts things into perspective, especially when we knew how hard the shake was.

“You just hope that everyone else is okay as well.”


  1. Thank goodness they did the balcony way, and that could have been quite high and not safe, but they were lucky. nice to see an article saying two storey with the spelling of storey correct, notice this week in a property listing each time they say STORY meaning storey!

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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