A NORTH-EAST woman has described the “miracle moment” when she survived the New Zealand earthquake.

Jo Cundy, of Lanehead, in Weardale, was in Christchurch Cathedral and had just lit a candle in memory of her late husband, the Right Reverend Ian Cundy, Bishop of Peterborough, when disaster struck.

Twenty-two people died as the quake reduced the cathedral’s west wing and its spire to rubble. So far, 148 victims have been recovered from across the city.

Mrs Cundy spoke about her ordeal from Dunedin, south of Christchurch, were she is now staying with relatives.

She had gone to the cathedral to meet the Bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, a long-standing friend of her husband, who died two years ago.

After lunch, she and a cousin went into the cathedral, which attracts more than 700,000 visitors a year.

“I had just lit a candle in memory of Ian when the earthquake struck. Lots of people were just standing around in a daze,” she said.

“Somehow we were able to get through clouds of dust from the collapsing spire. We were shaken, but we were safe.”

Mrs Cundy, a 65-year-old retired solicitor, who also has a home in Durham City, said their instinct was to try to get away from the centre of the city, with its high buildings.

They set off to walk to their cousin’s house in the suburb of Avonside.

“We were watching so much awful destruction. We were surrounded by oceans of grey volcanic mud, driven to the surface by the earthquake, something I had never seen before in my life.”

On arrival at her cousin’s home, they found it had been badly damaged, particularly inside. “Because of the aftershocks going off after the quake we decided to spend that night camping in the garden,” she said.

Two days later, Mrs Cundy managed to book a bus journey to Dunedin – and the safety of other relatives’ homes.

Her family has a long association with New Zealand dating from the early missionaries.

Her father was born there and moved to London to be a Harley Street specialist.

Mrs Cundy plans to return home to Weardale in the next month. Her friend and neighbour, retired farmer Neville Rutter, said last night: “We have been very worried about Jo. It seems like a miracle that she should be lighting a candle for Ian when the quake struck. We will be very glad to have her back.”

Meanwhile, the daughter of a pensioner has spoken of her relief after hearing her mother had escaped injury.

Edith Davis, 88, originally from New Marske, east Cleveland, was staying with friends in the coastal town of Lyttleton, closer to the epicentre of the quake than Christchurch.

Her daughter, Rosemary Brooks, said: “Thankfully, the house she was staying in survived in one piece, although they were without electricity, telephone and water initially.”