A Singaporean couple found themselves stranded with dozens of customers in a pub in Christchurch for six hours, during a security lockdown in the wake of the mass shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city on Friday (15 March).
The shootings have claimed at least 49 lives, said New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush at around 4pm, Singapore time. Media reports said at least 20 people have been seriously wounded.
Lawyer Daniel Tan, 38, and his wife Lareina Tay, 37, may well have had a narrow escape too. Tan told Yahoo News Singapore that they were initially planning to drive towards Hagley Park, located near Al Noor Mosque where 30 people were killed. They decided to head to a pub instead due to rain.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the attacks marked “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”, adding that three men and a woman had been taken into custody. One of the gunmen was an Australian-born citizen and “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”, said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Sydney.
Two IEDS (improved explosive devices) were also found and neutralised by the military, police said.
A city on lockdown
The couple, who had been on holiday in New Zealand since last Friday, drove into Christchurch from Queenstown on Friday afternoon. They had dinner plans with a friend and then decided to stop at the Craft Embassy pub for a beer. “That’s when we heard about the shooting,” said Tan.
“We were sitting on the patio when the bar manager came out to speak to people. He said that the situation seemed to be escalating and thought that for our safety, he should bring everyone in. The police had also advised everyone to stay indoors for their own safety.”
He added, “We thought it would only be a few hours, but it turned out that the whole city was locked down.”
Asked what the atmosphere in the pub was like, Tan said, “You could hear the police sirens going every 10 or 15 minutes. It was non-stop.”
Tay, also a lawyer, added, “Everyone was on the phone checking social media. People were on edge and they wanted to know what was going on, but there was no panic.”
The couple eventually left the pub around 6pm when police gave the all-clear. Their dinner plans were cancelled as their friend works in a hospital and was on call. It took them 30 minutes to drive out of the city as there were “huge traffic jams” due to road closures.
According to the Christchurch Airport website, many inbound flights to Christchurch on Friday have been cancelled. The couple are scheduled to fly to Auckland on Saturday morning and then on to Singapore.