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Christchurch: the Earthquake that Shook a City

Wednesday 28th October 2015

rain 17 °C

We only had two nights in the city which meant that we had just one short day to explore. We had some breakfast and then made the easy walk into the city centre where we were intending to do a free city walk. Once we got near the Cathedral the damage to buildings became evident. Apart from being shored up it looked as though nothing had been done to repair it since the earthquake struck on the 22nd February 2011.


The weather was overcast and drizzly and it gave the city centre an understandably gloomy air. We went and got a coffee from a mobile stand in the square and got talking to the people running it. They had been out of the city centre on the day the big one struck and it was lucky they were, not only would they have been showered in glass and possibly masonry but they also spoke of the awful looting that took place in the days that followed. The army tried to keep control but they spoke of a jewellers that was completely cleaned out. Fortunately people have been able to claim for the damage and theft on their insurance. The woman spoke of the lasting impact of the quake and how any loud noise will instantly make them fearful. They also said that all three of their children had since left Christchurch, not just because of the fear of earthquakes but because of the impact it has had on the city. It was good talking to them about their experience and thoughts about the tragedy and it seemed cathartic for them. However you also feel conscious that you might be stirring up unwanted memories at the same time. By then it was time for our tour and so we said our goodbyes and wished them well and made our way to the Chalice (erected for the millennium) which was the agreed meeting point.


Michael our guide duly arrived at the appointed time and introduced himself to the eight people that had turned up for the tour that morning. He also had been out of town on the day of the earthquake coming back a couple of days later. He was incredibly knowledgable about his home city and the walking tour included elements of pre-quake history, information about the architecture as well as some very human and very tragic stories about the quake. What I hadn't appreciated was that the tremors began on the 4th of September 2010 and continued until and after the main earthquake. The initial one was in fact the strongest, but it was quite a bit deeper and so did less damage and no one was killed, in contrast to the 2011 quake. Michael told us about people trapped in an office building when the stairwells collapsed. Some of them tied fire hoses together and abseiled down the outside of the building whilst the rest went up onto the roof from where they were eventually rescued by crane. Michael also took us the the site of the Canterbury Television Building (CTV) where 115 people lost their lives. Most of the dead where on the lower two or three floors and were crushed when the whole building collapsed in on itself leaving a pile of rubble only a couple of metres high. many of the injured were language school pupils and he read out an account by a Japanese student who survived but lost a leg. It was all very emotional and despite the fact that Michael must go there nearly everyday it was clear that it still touched him in a massive way. We also went to the chair memorial where there is a chair (some donated by family members) for every one of the 185 people that died. This really brought the death toll home, and seeing a baby car seat and a high hair was particularly poignant.


Not all of the tour was sad though, there were examples of optimism and a desire to rebuild. There were the official projects like the temporary 'cardboard cathedral', gardens planted on wasteland left from buildings demolished but not yet rebuilt.


There is the reStart shopping mall constructed soon after the quake out of old shipping containers and the art and street murals which have 'lifted' many of the damaged and abandoned buildings.


It was a profoundly impactive tour and at the end of it we were happy to give Michael a tip, which is the only money he gets for doing these tours. He was off for coffee after the tour and he invited people to join him. As we were both wet and cold we took him up on his offer and we went to a reStart cafe and ordered our drinks. It was slightly strange sitting in a second storey container and I felt a bit sorry for the staff who had to carry everyone's orders up an external staircase in the rain.

Michael told us a bit more about himself and how he came to set up his business in Christchurch having seen such enterprises in Europe. After we had finished our drinks we wished him well and we went our separate ways. We then went to get one of the circular tourist trams that runs round the city centre as we thought we had got wet enough walking in the rain. We went as far as the Canterbury Museum but when we got off the bus there was a small break in the cloud so we decided to take advantage of this and get the shuttle bus that goes from there to the Christchurch Gondola. When we got there the rain was still holding off so we had a bit of a view going up and down although unfortunately the top was still shrouded in cloud.


We got the next available shuttle back to the museum and went and had a look inside. It had a great eclectic collection from Moa bird skeletons, Maori artefacts, exhibits relating to the first settlers, and mock up of shops (including a penny farthing you could sit on).


It also had an interesting exhibition about some of the Antarctic explorers. There was a great exhibition on mirrors and we had great fun playing with these


and there was also a replica of a house that had been decorated by its owners in abalone shells (quite bizarre). Both of us had a great time there and it was good to get out of the rain. Once we had finished we had one more circuit on the tram before getting off and making our way back to our apartment.


When then got talking to the female manager and she also spoke to us about her experience of the earthquake and how terrified she was. It is a testament to the architects of the building that it survived undamaged, but she spoke of how upset and scared she had been a couple of days prior to our visit when there was a small tremor. She said that if there was ever another biggish quake she would leave the city and not come back. She also lent us a copy of a book full of photographs taken by Christchurch Fire Service photographers hours and days after the quake. It made chilling viewing. We had found it a very moving day and I felt a genuine warmth for the people who had been through so much and were still so troubled by what had happened. We went out later for a meal but I think we both felt a little subdued.

Posted by Gill's Travels 15:03 Archived in New Zealand Tagged churches new_zealand christchurch graffiti earthquake

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