"" Writer's Wanderings: New Zealand Diary - Christchurch, Earthquake Recovery

Thursday, November 21, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Christchurch, Earthquake Recovery

Note the containers holding up facade.
Saturday, October 19, 2013

Morning brings sunshine. It is amazing to us how many good days we have had. We can only hope it continues. The snow-capped alps are shrouded in misty morning air heavy with salt from the sea. So much for my sunny picture. We start off on our drive to Christchurch. We want to get there before noon so that we can tour the city a bit. There will be no time tomorrow with our all day train ride through the alps.

On arrival at Christchurch it is difficult to find our way to the Information Center since there are so many detours in the major part of the city. The business district was the area hit the worst in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. We finally find the IC next to the museum and stop in to buy our tour tickets for Discover Christchurch. It is a red double decker bus with an open top for the one hour tour and if you opt for the full three hours, you are transferred to a double decker enclosed bus. We choose to take the shorter tour because we really just want to see the city.

Insert is from our 2000 visit.
On our cruise several years ago we had visited Christchurch. It is amazing to see the devastation this city has suffered. In some ways it reminds me of New York after 9/11. Big vast open areas where buildings once were. It has been two years since the last quake and much of the debris has been cleared leaving vast areas of vacant lots with remnants of the rubble.. What is mostly going on now is deciding which buildings still need to be demolished and which they can salvage. There were about 1500 buildings that were lost and among them over 200 that were historic landmarks. Some, like the old cathedral will not be saved meaning Christchurch will lose a lot of its history.

The buildings that used to be the University of Canterbury and then became the Arts Center showcasing one of the most distinct cluster of heritage buildings were damaged so severely that they don’t expect the restoration work to be done until 2025.

Christchurch felt itself fortunate to have survived a 7.1 earthquake on September 4, 2010 but their good fortune turned to disaster when a 6.3 quake hit on February 22, 2011. There were 185 killed and several thousand injured in the second which was along a fault line closer to the center of the city and in the middle of the afternoon when many were at work in the city center.

Our bus driver pointed out where the Canterbury Television (CTV) and Pyne Gould buildings were where so many were killed. He used to work in one of the buildings and talked to one of the few survivors he knew. She was a receptionist on the first floor and ran the moment the building started to shake. She told him it collapsed behind her as she ran out. On a corner lot across from where the buildings stood are a set of white chairs, each representing someone who died there.

 Adding to the problem in a large residential section was the fact that much of it was built on a swamp and therefore when the quake happened, the water between the rocks below the foundations caused even more shifting making everything unstable. A large area of residential homes that have been condemned will not be rebuilt because of that. Also there will be no buildings over three or four stories high in the city.

Christchurch will be brand new in a couple of decades just like Napier that was rebuilt in the 1930s. Chances are the traditional buildings that lent the charm of the old city will give way to something new. Our driver indicated that there was an excitement growing in the opportunity to create something that will serve the citizens well and be an attraction for others. 

A temporary building called The Cardboard Cathedral is an example of what may be to come. The cathedral was designed by a Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban. Its supporting walls are made from containers and the beams are two foot diameter cardboard tubes. Originally the cardboard was to be the sole support of the roof but because the proper cardboard could not be imported, the beams were made with wood in the center of the cardboard tubes. The building has multiple uses and is interdenominational. 

After our bus ride, we stroll past the Avon river. While the bridges over the river are closed to vehicle traffic due to quake damage, you can still walk over them. The river remains a beautiful respite in the middle of the city.

The afternoon passes quickly and we need to find our Bed and Breakfast. Much to our surprise, we are greeted by not only our two legged host but a four legged one as well. We’d forgotten that The Lilac Rose has a resident retriever and a “non-social” cat. Maddie is very friendly though and reminds us of our son’s retriever back home. She comes and lays her head on Bob’s knee and patiently waits for a scratch.

We make it an early evening as we have to rise and shine in time for our Trans Alpine Railway trip tomorrow. It’s been a sad day but a day filled with hope for Christchurch. People are looking forward rather than clinging to a past they can’t change. They are excited about the new city that will rise. We wish them the best.

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