Historic setting: Pete Darrell sported pink Bermuda shorts when he married Jan in April 2009 outside James ‘Jemmy’ Darrell’s St. George’s home. *Photo supplied
Historic setting: Pete Darrell sported pink Bermuda shorts when he married Jan in April 2009 outside James ‘Jemmy’ Darrell’s St. George’s home. *Photo supplied
‘The floor started to move — it was terrifying’ ...but we’re safe, family tells loved ones in Bermuda after devastating earthquake in New Zealand.

A man whose family has deep Bermuda roots has vividly recounted the moment a massive earthquake sent buildings crashing and people running for their lives in Christchurch.

Pete Darrell watched on helplessly as his hometown was torn apart by the worst natural disaster to hit New Zealand in nearly a century.

Mr. Darrell, who is a direct descendant of Pilot James ‘Jemmy’ Darrell and was married outside Jemmy Darrell’s St. George’s home in 2009, said the quake had made the city look like a war zone.

He added: “I was doing a programme with a group of guys on parole when all of sudden all hell broke loose and the building starting shaking. We had experienced a few tremors in the days before but there was something much worse about this.

“The noise it made and the way the floor started to move — it was terrifying.

“I was going to dive under the desk but there were other people there before me. The roof panels in the room were flapping all over the place so I just tried to get the hell out of the building as quickly as I could.”

He added: “When I got out on to the street I was just hit by a wave of dust.

“Buildings were collapsing around me. A lot of people were running to get the hell out of it. Some were crying while others were just standing there looking stunned.

“Everyone was trying to get out of the city and get home to their loved ones. The traffic was unbelievable. You could see the worry and the panic on people’s faces.

“People were riding their motorbikes without helmets down paths just to get out. It was bedlam. The roads were awful – there was water everywhere. It was like a war zone.”

Mr. Darrell sped home to meet up with his wife at their home.

Their house had been rocked and cracks littered the brickwork.

He added: “We had only been in our new house just over a week. We thought because we were 15 minutes out of town we would be okay.

“But when we got there the house looked like a bomb had hit it. We could not open the doors and the house had actually been shunted 55mm back and then forwards again during the quake.

“It was devastating to see the damage to our new home.

“There were massive splits in the concrete and lumps of wall missing. We are going to have to demolish it and build it again. That could take three of four years – we just don’t know.

“We have moved to my wife’s daughter’s home as she has electricity and water. We’ll have to move back into our place and see how we go. It’s just about livable in.

“But my brother’s home, which is five minutes from town, is a total write off. It’s not even livable in. The quake just completely destroyed it.

“We know plenty of people who are in the same boat.”

Meanwhile on the other side of the world the Darrell’s Bermudian cousins were desperately tried to find out if their relatives had survived the disaster.

Many from the Bermudian side of the family had only just met their New Zealand cousins for the first time at a ‘Darrell Family Reunion’ in April, 2009.

St. George’s wedding

The reunion was also the setting for Pete and Jan Darrell’s wedding.

The marriage took place outside Jemmy Darrell’s St. George’s home and was attended by dozens of Darrells from different generations.

Ever since then Pete and Jan Darrell have stayed in touch with a number of their Bermudian cousins.

As soon as news of the Christchurch earthquake broke, Gary Kent-Smith and Kim Minors sent emails to their cousins Bryan, Peter and Colleen Darrell.

While Valerie Rowling tried to contact another cousin Bill Grant, who lives just outside Christchurch.

Mr. Kent-Smith, who recently visited Mr. Darrell and his family in Christchurch with his wife, said his cousins were lucky to be alive.

He added: “We only heard from them for the first time on Thursday. We were starting to get really worried.

“When I got the email saying they were okay I just gave a whoop of delight. It was sheer relief.

“When you look at all the people that have died and are missing they are lucky they survived it all.”

Mrs. Rowling added: “We were beginning to fear the worse. A lot of us over here were trying to find out if they were okay.

“I was in touch with another cousin, Bill Grant, who lives just outside Christchurch. I got a message from him saying he was fine but he did not know how Bryan and Peter were.

“We did not hear anything for a couple of days which made it even more worrying. So it was such a huge relief to hear they were all okay.”

Pete Darrell told the Bermuda Sun last night that the Christchurch community was still gripped in fear.

He said rescuers were still looking for the bodies of the missing and residents were banned from entering the city centre.

He added: “Right now I think everyone is just fearful of what will happen next and whether we get another quake. It’s a horrible feeling.

“We are lucky that everyone we know is okay.

“My wife was out of town when it hit – but she normally would work just across from the cathedral which has been totally flattened.

“It does not bear thinking about what would have happened if she had been at work.

Mr. Darrell said: “I just want all our Bermudian cousins to know we are all safe and well.

“We really appreciate the messages of support and concern that we have received from Bermuda.”



Who was Pilot Darrell?

Pilot Darrell's old house in St. George's The Darrells who are caught up in the earthquake devastation in New Zealand are related to one of the most notable figures in Bermuda’s history, James ‘Jemmy’ Darrell, whose story dates back more than 200 years.
Writer Meredith Ebbin, who runs the website www.bermudabiographies.com, said of Jemmy Darrell: “He is a heroic figure because of his expertise as a pilot and because of his accomplishments after he was given his freedom, which include being the first documented black person to own property in Bermuda. The fact that we are still talking about him today is a testament to his legacy.”

  • James Darrell was a slave for most of his life but granted freedom at the age of 47 due to his outstanding skills as a pilot.
  • He one of Bermuda’s first King’s pilots, as well as the first known black person to purchase a house.
  • The manumission paper that freed him from bondage described “a certain Negro man, commonly called or known by the name of Jemmy Darrell, aged forty seven Years or thereabouts of a smooth skin and yellowish Complexion and Five feet eight inches high…”
  • As a free man of colour, he challenged laws that imposed new restrictions on free blacks and slaves, and also petitioned against proposals that would have led to a drop in income for King’s pilots.
  • Living in St. George’s, Darrell belonged to a thriving community of free blacks. Of the nine parishes, St. George’s had the largest number of free blacks in the 30 years prior to Emancipation in 1834.
  • He died at the age of 66 in 1815 and was buried in the graveyard for free blacks and slaves in St. Peter’s Church, St. George’s.
  • His property, located on Aunt Peggy’s Lane, remains in family hands. Romano Ramirez, a direct descendant, restored the house in 1992.

Research: Simon Jones
Source : www.bermudabiographies.com.