published Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Amid New Zealand tragedy, a rescue and a wedding

By KRISTEN GELINEAU

Associated Press

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Clutching her groom, she looked like any beaming bride. But Emma Howard’s trip down the aisle Friday almost didn’t happen. Just 72 hours earlier she was trapped under a building that collapsed in the earthquake.

The 23-year-old was rescued nearly six hours after sending a frantic text to her fiancee, who helped pull her out.

“I got this text ... saying ’It’s Emma here. I’m OK and I love you very much,” said Chris Greenslade, who was outside his office across town when the disaster struck Tuesday afternoon and raced to find Howard.

Coming around the side of her building, he was horrified to find a tangled pile of metal beams and concrete, with the roof pancaked at a 45-degree angle. “It was honestly the worst thing I’ve ever felt in my life,” he said.

The office tower was destroyed, and Howard was trapped in a tiny cavity between collapsed floors. Greenslade dug through the debris, pulling others free as he tried to reach Howard. He then helped direct the rescue crews that eventually found her.

During the ordeal, Howard said Greenslade kept her calm by sending her reassuring texts.

“His message said, ’I’m with your parents. I love you. There are lots of men trying to get you out,”’ she told Associated Press Television News.

The couple was all smiles as they left Christ the King Church on Friday — she in a white strapless dress with a lace bodice and pale pink bow at the back pinned with a cameo brooch, he in a dark suit and purple tie.

Surrounded by family, friends and their wedding party, Howard raised her right hand and pointed to the heavens, smiling exuberantly.

Thoughts of her nuptials, which had been planned for months, raced through her head as she lay for hours pinned on the floor, Howard said.

After her rescue, “I said to people, ’When I was in there I was thinking, I’m meant to be married in three days,”’ she said. “And they said to me, ’You still are.”’

“Everybody was determined we were still getting married. And I was like, ’OK, then.”’

Their happy day had its solemn moments, with the pastor recalling that many in this city where at least 123 perished and more than 200 are missing were not so lucky.

It was a twist of fate not lost on the young couple.

While the bridesmaids wore purple dresses as Howard had planned, the groomsmen were in white shirt sleeves; their suits were lost in the temblor. They also lost their cake.

“But everything else has gone to plan. We are just so lucky,” Greenslade said.

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