At 4:35am on 4th September 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. Just over four years to the day after it happened, I landed here with little intention of hanging around for long after seeing news items regarding continuing problems with thousands of people still living in temporary accommodation, insurance companies not paying out, floods causing sewage leakages…I could go on…it seems shocking in a developed country really – especially so long afterwards. I have heard it described by locals as a national disgrace.
A colleague of mine described how on his return home after the quake, many of the points he used to use to navigate by road had just disappeared. Building safety in earthquakes is mainly to try to allow people to get out safely…it doesn’t guarantee the building will remain.
I didn’t recall much of the city from my first visit in 2002 but I was aware of the cathedral, and the 2008 Rough Guide we have still spoke highly of what Christchurch has to offer…so it was with some trepidation that we decided to take a little time to look around.
What we saw was tragic in many ways…roads closed, so many buildings under construction, buildings being propped up and a once beautiful cathedral partially ruined. And yet…there was still beauty, life and joy here. Money-permitting the cathedral will be rebuilt. The River Avon still looks beautiful. There is a shopping centre made from shipping containers (called the re:Start mall) and we bought some carved wood from someone who had acquired 8 tonnes of wood from an old destroyed tap room to turn it into new objects with a new life. It gives a little boost to views of the human spirit.
Christchurch is starting over…what a great opportunity…but when you have so many issues still unresolved, surely re-opening the art gallery is hardly a priority!