IN ONE of the most chilling photographs taken on February 22, 2011, a white-sneakered foot protrudes from a dirty grey blanket amid a mountain of rubble. The foot belonged to Olivia Cruickshank.
Left for dead , she lay face down amid the ruins of City Mall. She lay silent and still as the sirens wailed and the people screamed. There were no signs of life in her face as the limp body of her six-year-old daughter Abigail was pulled from beneath her.
For more than two hours, three men separately searched for a pulse or a sign of life. She gave them nothing. Now, two years on, Olivia wants the world to know that, against tremendous odds, she and Abigail are alive.
Olivia, 35, does not often talk about how she came back from the dead, nor does she like to discuss how Abigail, now 8, nearly died beneath her.
She can't explain their survival - to her, it is truly a miracle.
''I didn't believe in miracles to the extent that I do now. A miracle to me now is something that cannot be explained easily. There are some things in this world that you just can't get your head around. Maybe there were guardian angels or maybe it just wasn't my time.''
Looking at her and Abbie now, there is barely a sign of their ordeal. Their physical scars are hidden and they laugh often. They look like just another mother and daughter, giggling as they cuddle on the couch in the comfort of their North Christchurch home.
But, seeing them together, knowing what they have had to overcome, makes their survival all the more wondrous.
''All those people thought I was dead and yet here I am, drinking a cup of coffee, sitting on the couch,'' Olivia says.
But she suffers from post-traumatic amnesia and still has no recollection of the week before the quake to a month after it.
It has been wiped from her memory and her account of what happened on the day is based on a jigsaw of second-hand information from her rescuers, hospital notes and appointment cards.
She starts with what she knows: On Tuesday, February 22, Abbie had a routine dental check-up appointment at Christchurch Hospital at 2pm. At 12.50 they were wandering through City Mall hand-in-hand looking for somewhere to have lunch.
A minute later, the magnitude-6.3 quake tore the mall to pieces. It ripped up paving, smashed glass windows and shook buildings to the ground. Debris and rubble rained down on the mother and daughter, hurling them to the pavement. As the dust began to settle, people started to comb through the ruins for any signs of life.
Joe Roy, 29, one of the first to find the pair, has remained a close family friend ever since and he has helped to fill in the blanks. He recalls seeing Olivia's legs sticking out from beneath a colossal brick and concrete column.
A group of 10 men, some in work suits, tried to lift the column, which was the ''size of a two-seater couch'', he says.
It was too heavy to lift, so they used a steel rod to lever it up.
As they pulled Olivia's ''twisted and bent'' body out from beneath the column, Roy saw her arm was draped protectively over a small child, hidden beneath the debris. They were bloodied and purple, starved of oxygen.
''Once we lifted that thing it looked like they were gone. They were purple, their eyes were open, they weren't breathing at all. They didn't look alive,'' Roy says.
Abbie's tiny, limp body was quickly plucked from the wreckage.
Roy and an another man put their hands together to form a human stretcher and ran to Christchurch Hospital. Two young boys cleared a path for the men, using their skateboards to separate the gathering crowds and stop traffic.
Abbie was the first person with earthquake injuries to reach the hospital. The other man sat in the carpark for hours waiting to hear if she had survived, while Roy ran back to City Mall to try to help her mother. By the time he reached the mall Olivia was covered by a blanket, already pronounced dead by a dentist and a medic from St John Ambulance. Believing Olivia was dead, Roy was helping someone else when he saw her blanket move. He tore it off, tried to clear her airway and yelled for help.
Another St John medic checked for a pulse and placed the blanket back over her body, telling Roy she was dead and her body was only twitching from the trauma. Again, Olivia Cruickshank was left to die.
She lay in the rubble for two hours and it wasn't until a young construction worker saw her foot twitch that she was finally given the help she desperately needed.
Another medic found a faint pulse and together they lifted her out of the rubble. She arrived at Christchurch Hospital almost three hours after the quake, despite being injured less than one kilometre away.
According to hospital reports, neither mother nor daughter were opening their eyes, verbally responding or moving any of their limbs when they arrived.
Abbie had suffered crush injuries, a traumatic brain injury, liver lacerations, a broken jaw, cuts to her face and scalp and had a limited response to resuscitation. Olivia had a collapsed lung, a broken neck, a shattered jaw, a ripped ear lobe and a severe traumatic brain injury.
''At one point the doctors considered stopping treatment on Abbie and I have been told that I would have died if I arrived at the hospital 20 minutes later,'' Olivia says.
Shortly after 5pm that day, her partner of 13 years, Tristan Walls, received the worst phone call of his life.
Tristan, who had been trying to get hold of Olivia for hours, was ecstatic to see a call come through from her mobile phone. But it was the voice of a stranger who told him his partner and daughter had been critically injured and that he needed to hurry because ''things weren't looking good''.
Up to that point, Walls had been feeling lucky as earlier in the day he had been working in the CTV building (later to collapse, killing 115) and he had also stopped by Joe's Garage on Hereford Street, which also crumbled, claiming a life.
He nearly collapsed when he first saw Olivia and Abbie at the hospital. ''I couldn't breathe. Abbie was all purple and Liv was just so bashed up. It was like somebody had just ripped my heart out,'' he says.
It took eight steps to walk from one bed to the other and he made the short journey hundreds of times that night.
Olivia and Abbie were then both flown to Auckland's Starship Hospital.
Doctors initially warned Tristan that if Abbie survived it was unlikely she would ever fully recover or be the child she used to be.
When she woke for the first time three days after the quake, he was there. She told her father her birthday, her cat's name and that she loved him, Then she slipped back into unconsciousness.
SHE did not fully wake from her coma for another two days. She was disoriented and extremely distressed when she came to and Walls was woken at 4am and came running. Doctors pulled a chair up to Abbie's bed, carefully picked her up to avoid further damage to her spine and placed her on Wall's lap for comfort.
It was the first time he had been able to hold her. ''It was the most amazing feeling. It was the first time I felt like we were going to make it out of all this,'' he says.
The extent of her crush injuries left Abbie with blood-red eyes for weeks after the quake. At first she could only speak like a baby and couldn't walk at all.
Occupational therapists used an array of different methods to help her recover, including fingerpaint, play dough and whiteboards. Three weeks later she was discharged from hospital and has since made a full recovery. Abbie is now known as Starship Hospital's ''miracle kid''.
She is now one of the top pupils in her Cotswold Primary School class and her days are busy with dancing lessons, swimming classes and touch rugby games.
Her mother's road to recovery has not been as smooth. Olivia underwent a 9½-hour operation to repair her injuries and can only recall bizarre fragments of her stay in hospital, such as having vivid hallucinations that she was being held captive in a foreign country.
After 3½ weeks, she was transferred to the brain injury rehabilitation unit at another hospital.
In late March, when her neurologist told her Prime Minister John Key was coming to the hospital to meet quake survivors, she panicked.
''I was upset all day because I thought they were going to ask me to lie to the Prime Minister and say I was hurt in the earthquake, when I actually believed I had been hit by a bus.''
It took weeks before Olivia began to understan she had been injured in a second quake. Her family did not tell her how close to death she had come until the end of her five-week stay. ''Everyone told me and I understood what they said, but I still thought it was so unbelievable,'' she says.
It wasn't until April when she watched video footage from City Mall that it finally sunk in. ''I remember watching the DVD thinking I must have been somewhere in the area and then I saw my foot. I recognised my shoe. I rewinded it, paused it on my body and just went into absolute shock,'' she says.
''It cemented everything I had been told. I believed what people had said but didn't think it had actually happened. It was just utter disbelief, there were so many people around me and yet there I was.''
Olivia doesn't feel any bitterness towards the people who mistakenly left her for dead. If anything, she wants to tell them how ''bloody grateful'' she is.
''I feel for them because of the trauma they have gone through and the guilt they have felt knowing that I was alive and that I am alive. The guilt people feel is huge,'' she says, crying for the only time in our interview.
''They need to know that Abbie and I wouldn't be here if they hadn't lifted that stuff off us. She would have suffocated and the weight would have been too heavy for me.''
But two years after being pulled from the rubble, the after-effects of her injuries still linger. She suffers from extreme fatigue, severe headaches and her memory is still hazy at times. But she has returned to work part-time and life is slowly getting back to what it once was.
There are even some positives - an unshakeable bond with Abbie and a stronger relationship with Tristan. ''If we can get through what we got through, nothing can stop us,'' she says.
The battered city of Christchurch remains home for the family, perhaps because of Olivia's ''pig-headed stubbornness'' or because the city's recovery is linked to her own.
''I believe it is a miracle that we both survived that day,'' she says. ''We have been given a second chance and I want to make the most of it.''