Firefighter Paul Rodwell wriggled through a burning building, rattling with constant aftershocks, in crawl space crammed with bodies and crushed furniture to save people he had never met.
His efforts and those of other rescue workers saw more than 20 people hauled alive from the wreckage and ruin that was once the Pyne Gould Corporation and Canterbury TV buildings.
Mr Rodwell said the floors of CTV that housed the King's Education language school, once 2.4 metres floor to ceiling, had collapsed to about half a metre of space, packed with rubble.
"You add that to once you get inside there, in that tight space, aftershocks are coming and then the poisonous smoke .. and you can't help thinking what it is like for those victims if you're in that place. At least I can wriggle out.
"Add to that [they] can't speak the language. They had smatterings of English where they were crying out from the dark words like `dangerous', `serious'."
Mr Rodwell said he saw two people still in their chairs, crushed into the foetal position and trapped by their legs, having not had enough time to get up once the quake struck.
Fingers and toes were all could be seen of other victims. A single concrete beam had trapped three students by their legs.
Unable to pronounce the foreign students' names, he had given them nicknames, including one called Ken whose leg had to be amputated to free him.
Mr Rodwell said he had been forced to leave Ken alone with an oxygen mask, torch and pillow for two hours as search and rescue workers dug down to him.
Being in the dark with the victims, giving them names and holding their hands, made it personal, he said.
"Some people shut it out ... trying to forget the patient, not really look at them and that but I like to empathise with them and when you're stuck down deep with them, you are with them, you know exactly how they feel, although you can get out."
It was a "euphoric" feeling to get people out alive, he said.
- The Dominion Post
I can;t read this without feeling the absolute horror of being trapped... injured... and not even speaking the language of the people rescuing you.
There are articles about their frantic texts home for help.
The Japanese rescue teams are now processing this particular building. Sadly, the people left in there may be beyond hearing, but if they can, maybe some will understand the language.
I am humbled, we all are, by the international aid, the incredible tams here to search, back up the police and the resources. Sometimes it really does remind you we are a global village of people supporting each other.
Thank you for all your messages
I am shortly off with a work mate to take cages to work. I don't imagine I can get through the cordoned area, but we are evacuating the rabbits and birds etc from our animal room. This might mean it will be a while before work resumes!