I have been in Christchurch for over two years now. I have got to know the people and the city. It is a fairly staid sort of place, the people are not prone to bouts of flamboyant expression but they are genuine, which can be quite refreshing. They are parochial which annoys other New Zealanders somewhat, particularly concerning the main sporting teams which are the Crusaders and the Canterbury rugby union teams (the national rugby team the All Blacks should of course be comprised of mostly local players). Both are based in Christchurch although the Crusaders represent the northern part of the South Island with the Canterbury team representing just the local area. The political correctness of calling a sporting team the Crusaders I don’t think has ever been raised here! Other popular sports are netball, cricket, rugby league and soccer. Past times include mountain biking, hiking / walking, surfing, golf, wind surfing and skiing / snowboarding in the Canterbury ski fields. Theatres and music recitals are well frequented and there is an arts and crafts community.
Geographically the city is bounded by the Port Hills to the south, and the South Pacific Ocean to the east. Most of the city is flat. There are some suburbs located on the lower parts of the Port Hills which allow expansive views over the Canterbury Plains to the foothills and the Southern Alps beyond. Over the Port Hills is Lyttelton Harbor, which has numerous small settlements dotted around it and the town of Lyttelton, which is also the site of the port which serves Christchurch and the hinterland. There are some picturesque suburbs such as Sumner and Scarborough, and close to the city are Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens, which the River Avon runs beside and through. Around the river there are scenes which are almost identical to which you will find in Britain, it has been called the most English city outside of England. There are weeping willows and oak trees, and blossom in spring.
The weather can be superb. There can be hot summer days, particularly if the föhn wind the Norwester is blowing. There are beautiful fall days with the leaves changing color, crisp winter days with some frosts and occasional snow, and with some lovely spring weather with pink and white blossoms city wide. It is a place where you can experience the seasons.
The population is 350,000, making it New Zealand’s second largest city. The people are proud of their city and heritage, which will be the basis for the rebuilding which will come and the saving of the heritage buildings that give the city its human landmarks.
The staidness and predictability of life in Christchurch changed forever on the 4th of September last year. An earthquake struck 40 kilometers (24 miles) to the west of the city. It was of a significant magnitude being 7.1 and was at a depth of 10km (6 miles). The dramatic main rupture point was around Highfield Road and Telegragh Roads. The fault line was a newly discovered one as it was covered by thousands of years of build up of gravel and soil up until the event. The westward part of the fault line is close to the locale of Greendale and it was called the Greendale fault. It runs east to the satellite town of Rolleston which is where a lot of the aftershocks took place. The northern part of the fault moved to the east which is graphically demonstrated from perfectly straight roads now being in two sections split along the rupture line. It caused a lot of damage but amazingly resulted in only two people being hospitalized with no fatalities. Part of the reason for this was the time it occurred, being 4.35am. It was Sunday morning so there were a few people clubbing in the city still out from the previous Saturday night but effectively everyone was safely in their homes in bed. Christchurch had a sense of luck that it escaped so lightly, but that sense of luck was shattered in the worst way possible this past Tuesday, the 22nd of February. At 12.51pm, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck which was only 5 kilometers deep. This and the proximity to the center of the city, being only 9 kilometers, made it a deadly one.
With the September quake I was in bed and must have been in a deep sleep because I sort of incorporated it into a dream, my girlfriend woke me, but don’t have that good a recollection of it, but it was the sort of quake you could ride out. The one on Tuesday was different; it was a beast. This time it was daylight and I had a very good bearing on what was happening. I was standing in the kitchen doorway which allowed me a view looking north as the house walls run north south and east west. Because the earthquake was so close the secondary wave (which provides the shaking of the earthquake) came very quickly, the primary wave in this quake lasted only a very short time. With other earthquakes I have experienced you sort of get a warning the shaking is coming because you hear the affect of the primary wave on the ground you are on and then a few seconds later the shaking starts as the secondary wave hits. In this earthquake it seemed to come out of the blue because the shaking started almost without warning. You sort of have a second where you freeze and determine how big the earthquake will be, you get quite good at this from all of the aftershocks. With this quake the shaking hit almost straight away making it seem as if it was an out of control and there was very little possibility of reacting. With the view I had along the kitchen it seemed the house moved to the east about 2 meters almost instantly and then did these very quick circular motions. The ground acceleration of this earthquake was very quick making it very violent. The ground acceleration at Heathcote Valley Primary School was 2.2 g’s. It is being reported now that the vertical shaking in the city center was more than three times the level expected in a one in 500 year earthquake event. We had an aftershock which knocked a few buildings around on Boxing Day but this was a whole different ball game and I had a feeling of dread. The electricity was knocked out around the city and so was the water.
Our house faired well as the ground we are on must be fairly solid and it is only a few years old so it has been built to a high building code standard, but the contents of the house were shaken, knocked over and sprayed around the various rooms. Furniture which was against perpendicular walls was knocked over because of the circular or at least different directional shaking. Because I was able to brace myself against the doorframe I was under I came through it unscathed. I tried to phone my girlfriend and the people I knew to see if they were all ok but there was no cell phone service and the landline phone we have operates on electricity so was unable to contact anyone which was concerning. I did a quick inspection of the house to see there was no major damage, righted the furniture and then went to check on the neighbors, some of which are elderly.
I went next door to where a married couple in their 80’s live. The woman was out but the man was home, he was fine but the house had all of its contents thrown onto the floor. Other people around weren’t home but a couple were, they were pretty shaken up as you would expect. One elderly woman came to her front door to greet me, I went into her home and she showed me all of the stuff all over the place. Luckily she was sitting in a sofa when the quake struck so she was alright. I was standing in one doorway and she was in another, unfortunately a big aftershock hit right then and she just toppled over in what seemed like slow motion. She has just a hip replacement and came down heavily on her side and she was unable to move. She has also had cancer which complicated things. She has an alarm she wears around her neck which is supposed to summon an ambulance if it is depressed. At this time one of her sons arrived and we made sure nothing else could fall on her as she could only lie on the floor. I thought I had better check if the ambulance was coming so I ran the emergency services. They had not been alerted by her personal alarm but said they would send one to us. One of the other neighbors was outside and came in; he had been listening to the radio on a transistor radio and told us how bad things were in the city center. It wasn’t good news. At this time one of her other sons arrived so I left them.
With everybody in the neighboring properties either ok or with an ambulance on the way and with people with them I turned my attention to a bit of self preservation to us. We had some water but not really enough so I went out to get some, only a gas station had some. It had no electricity but was open to sell goods, I grabbed some small bottles and went to look for a supermarket which would have bigger bottles but they were all closed. With not knowing how long power and water would be off I thought I better get some gas in case it they were both off for days and we had to leave town. I went around the gas stations in this part of the city but they were all closed so I had to go outside of Christchurch to West Melton to fill up. There was a queue which was getting bigger as the minutes went by. This is probably termed as panic buying but you have to look after yourself and the people you know so if you need to leave town you can, and if everybody is doing it you sort of have to or you could miss out if gas supplies don’t come to town in the upcoming days or if the gas stations are damaged that they can’t operate. Gas supplies were able to come up from Timaru so that was ensured constant supply but there were still big queues at the gas station that were open, some are still only selling diesel.
With being in the car I was able to listen to the radio I could hear what had happened. They reported that they were fatalities and scores injured and that some buildings had collapsed completely and people were trapped inside. I thought about going into the center and helping but they said they didn’t want anybody going in and were moving people out. I decided it would be best to stay put and look out for the people around our area, make sure they all had water etc. When I got back home the lady who had fallen was still there, the ambulance never came. We realized one probably wouldn’t come with the problems in the city center so we mulled over what to do. One of her son’s wives is a nurse and they decided to keep her in the house over night and gently carried her to bed and kept a close eye on her. The ambulance came the next morning, she was admitted to hospital and it was found she had a broken femur and she now is in intensive care, they are also critically concerned about her cancer, hopefully she will be alright but at least she now is in the best possible place.
There were two buildings which dramatically collapsed in the center of the city, the PGC building and the CTV building. The Christchurch Cathedral is the most famous building in the city and it had its spire collapse. The PGC pancaked down upon itself, it looks like the bottom floor help up but the upper floors fell on top of each other. People survived this collapse though but there have been some terrible stories. One man had to have his legs amputated by hacksaw and pocket knife by some urologists who were here for a convention.
The CTV building housed the local television station Canterbury TV, a language school and a medical center. The floors suffered total collapse although the lift shaft has remained standing. There have been numerous local identities who were caught in this building and many Japanese students who here studying English. There was also a fire which has made it difficult for rescuers and will make identification of the bodies very difficult. Serious questions have to be raised about the collapse of this building because it was cleared for use after September’s earthquake but occupants reported the building groaned and creaked which is a bad sign that a building is under stress. One tv presenter said that a heavy truck went past on the road beside and the lights and power went out in the studio.
The Christchurch Cathedral lost its spire. There are twenty two people thought to be in the Cathedral still and work there is being conducted very carefully. This is one building which must be rebuilt as it sort of defines Christchurch.
There have been buses crushed by falling masonry and the number of deaths is still unknown.
At this point there have been 154 confirmed deaths, another 80 are feared dead as well. There have been 20 countries affected by this tragedy.
I have been briefly in the PGC building and have been in the Christchurch Cathedral, you used to be able to climb up the tower on which the spire sat and get a view out over Cathedral Square and parts of the city, but the one place which collapsed and I went to a lot was the Trocadero bakery in Cashel St. Three people were killed there and it is likely I will know someone who worked there and who was caught in the shop. You sort of can’t help but think it could have been me as well if I had been in there at the time of the quake.
The most obvious damage has been the buildings affected but long term the most problematic aspect of this for the reconstruction is the liquefaction that has occurred. This is where the ground behaves like a liquid during the shaking. There have been instances of cars been swallowed by the road they were travelling on with only there rear end sticking up out of what used to be the road. Even eddies of liquefaction have been filmed of what used to be solid ground. This has caused huge problems in damage to water and sewage lines, some people will be without running water for weeks. Thirty four per cent of households are still without water. It is being brought into the city in large amounts and bottled water is back in the supermarkets that are open. The liquefaction is becoming problematic as the silt dries and is causing some respiratory problems. Unfortunately this has happened worst in the east of the city which is the lower socio economic area of the city, so these people don’t have the same opportunity to leave and they have to deal with the situation as best as possible. The value of their houses will go down as well as any problem with the land they are on has to be recorded in their Land Information (LIM) Report so they suffer a double blow. One advantage with a lot of New Zealand houses is that a lot are made from wood which allows them to twist and flex so most are habitable, I think ten thousand houses have been deemed unsafe; this will affect roughly ten per cent of the population.
There have rock slides and cliff faces collapse in the hill suburbs with some evacuations, some hikers were killed by rocks being dislodged and hitting them while they were out walking. There are photos of houses which have had boulders go in one side of the house and out the other.
A lot more information can be found on websites of course, these are probably the best two, the Fairfax group’s website of which the local paper The Press belongs, and Television New Zealand
There are some good before and after photos here, drag the cursor across the see the difference
Some more photos, there are some dramatic scenes further in
Another good website is geonet, it has the earthquake’s characteristics
When we got power on the next afternoon I checked the websites of firms in town that I knew people who worked there, luckily none were hurt and all staff and their families were accounted for. Over the next couple of days I heard that people I know knew people who were killed. One girl lost her sister in law in the PGC building, one lady knew one of the men who was killed removing the organ from the Durham St Church, and one friend who owns a pharmacy (drug store) lost a lot of work colleagues who ran the medical center which had relocated to the CTV building. Their medical center / pharmacy was undamaged in September’s earthquake but the building on the east side was badly damaged and they were unable to operate from their premises. Space was available around the corner at the CTV building and they took up a lease, my friend was due to open his pharmacy in a month’s time to join them but luckily was still working from another premises. If he had moved at the same time he would have been lost. He has said he doesn’t quite know how he feels yet as has had to keep operating his other pharmacy as it provides a valuable service to the community at this time and he has a family to look after, it must be tough losing colleagues you have worked with for six years.
I know two people who saw buildings collapse, one who worked in the Inland Revenue building (tax department) opposite the CTV building and saw it collapse, he was affected by it and has taken his family to Nelson to get away. Another saw the Durham St Church collapse as he left his office.
When I was at the airport the human side of this was brought home when I saw a mother and her daughter hug each other in a way I’ve never quite seen before. The mother was about 60 and her daughter looked to be in her early thirties. They hugged each other incredibly tightly and the look on the mothers face was one of desperation and fear. I looked away but from what I took from it was her husband was missing and likely to have been killed.
Personally I feel a bit hollow about it all. I think it will sink in more when more photos of the deceased are published. I’ve certainly become a lot more locally focused and people focused and not as interested in events in other places. Haven’t really felt like doing normal things like listening to music or being concerned with sport of anything competitive. I felt a lot of empathy for the people who were trapped in the buildings that collapsed when it started raining in the night of the day of the quake. It started to get cold as well and I could only imagine how desperate and awful anybody still alive must have been feeling. The chances of finding people alive now are greatly diminished but people will still cling on to hope and the rescuers will still keep looking.
The organization for the response has been described by overseas participants as excellent. There is a government ministry Civil Defense which is coordinating the effort. There has been wonderful support from overseas search and rescue teams. Teams have come from Taiwan, Japan, Los Angeles, China, Australia, Singapore and the UK. The Singapore military was here on a joint exercise and they have provided man power, and there have been three hundred police officers come across from New South Wales in Australia and they have been sworn in as police officers with the same powers as New Zealand police. The Mayor Bob Parker is having his ‘Rudy Giulina moment’. He is very good as he is quite calming in the way he talks and is very good in a crisis. He used to be a TV presenter which is partly why is he is so good now. Interestingly just before the September quake there were elections due and he was trailing a long time member of parliament, Jim Anderton, who made the fateful remark the night before the 7.1 earthquake in that it would take a seismic shift for him to lose. Well there was a literal seismic shift and Bob Parker was on the television every night using his presenting experience and won back a lot of support. Over the last few months his support has fallen and there have been plenty of complaints that he has been ignoring the rebuilding of Christchurch that should have been taking place at a faster rate than was happening. The number three in government Gerry Brownlee has been made in charge of the rebuilding now. He has dropped his other portfolios and Christchurch is now his sole focus. He is a Christchurch local and will ensure things get done and it will be better to have him in charge of the reconstruction instead of Bob Parker.
Here is the Christchurch City Council website, and there has been a website set up by the Environment Canterbury and the Christchurch City Council
The government has been proactive in helping businesses who can no longer trade. They have offered packages to pay for employees wages for six weeks. Some people are complaining that there businesses have been unaffected and they need to at least gain access to their workplace to retrieve computers and documents so that they can trade in another location. I think today the cordon around the center will start to be decreased in places which will be of relief to some business owners and their employees. There are complications with law firms and accounting forms which have their intellectual property and client’s information at their offices, they might not be able to access these for months.
The social side of Christchurch will change forever. There were four areas in the center where there are bars and restaurants. There was Oxford Terrace (which was particularly nice being located near the River Avon), Sol Square, Poplar Lane and a few bars along Manchester St. It is likely the Oxford Terrace bars, Sol Square and Poplar Lane will have suffered major damage and a few bars along Manchester St will have been badly affected. It is not so much of an issue for middle aged people but for people in their twenties they will have lost their regular places and clubs. There are bars in the suburbs where people can meet but they are pretty tame, it certainly will change how young people socialize and enjoy themselves at night. Nightlife now will be so quiet no doubt young people will leave town as they will be so restricted in their options to go out. Being in my late thirties it won’t affect me so much but a component of Christchurch which helped give it its character is finished, certainly for a while.
A thing on everybody’s minds is are there going to be any more big earthquakes? A friend of mine who works at the University has said there is a theory that the amount of energy released in the aftershocks from September’s 7.1 earthquake was enough to have made the 6.3 magnitude one very unlikely as the stress should have been dissipated a lot more by now meaning that there could be other stresses in play. Lyttelton Harbor is a dormant volcano but let’s hope that’s not it! If there is more stress present it could be released. This is not firm in anyway but something to keep in mind that there could be another decent size quake to come. We have got the car outside ready to go and not in the garage in case another big one hits and the car gets damaged. We have all of the valuable stuff in the house on the floor where the items can’t topple down or have things fall on them, we also have the cupboards tied up to stop more cups and plates falling down being smashed. The thing is how long do you keep living like that? It is almost six months since the 7.1 quake; do we live like that for another six months or more? At some point you have to get on with things and go back to living normally.
The fact the Port Hills were created from a volcano magnifies the problems for
Christchurch. The hard basalt rock actually reflects the earthquake wave back and you can have an affect of waves going in opposing directions as the waves get bounced around. None of this of course was known when the settlers decided to make Christchurch their home in the nineteenth century.
So the question is with Christchurch what will become of it now? Some people have given up completely. There have even been enrolments already in other schools in the South Island as families leave the city for good. On the night of the quake there was a bottleneck as the traffic became gridlocked on the main route south out of the city as people fled. The town of Timaru has hosted a large number of Christchurch people and Dunedin is considering opening a Christchurch Embassy to cater for the people who are arriving there. Air New Zealand offered a great deal in selling $50 fares to anywhere in New Zealand and many people took it up. Fifty thousand have left by plane in the past week.
It is going to be very difficult to justify rebuilding some of the suburbs in the eastern part of the city, the liquefaction is that bad. There is plenty of room to expand the city westward although that would mean relocating the airport another 10 kilometers or so the west and then that would open up a large amount of land. That would be very expensive though but what will be the cost if the eastern part of the city is rebuilt and another devastating earthquake strikes and the ground liquefies again? There are some buildings which must be rebuilt. The Christchurch Cathedral is the most prominent and iconic building in the city. Its spire came down but everyone is saying it must be rebuilt which is a must, also the Arts Center has come through in not too bad shape and hopefully will be able to be strengthened and retained in entirety. The city will go on, it will change in character forever but it has too many good things going for it for people not to build the place up again. We have just had a national two minutes of silence at 12.51pm to mark the time a week ago when the earthquake hit. This was very moving and will have been emotional for a lot of people. Many have been going non stop and to take time to do nothing and reflect will bring the sadness to the fore, and it will have given people an opportunity to reflect on Christchurch and its people. A man in Clifton Hill was asked by a member of the media if he will go back to living there, he simply replied “Yes, I like the place”.
I’ll finish now and end with some advice for you to consider
It’s probably not a good idea to run outside in an earthquake. There were very few buildings that collapsed internally but the majority of the ones that were damaged had their facades come down. The natural reaction is to run outside to an open space but people were caught by falling bricks and masonry as they ran outside as the faces fell off the building they were in. It’s not a hard and fast rule of course as some buildings did suffer full collapse or partial internal collapse but generally being inside a building was safer than risking running outside and having the front of the building come down on you.
Have plenty of bottled water, when it stops coming out of the tap it is not nice to consider the consequences
Keep your gas tank filled at least half full in case you need to leave and gas stations either have large queues or are closed
Have a radio and torch with batteries for them and some non-perishable food
Carry a spare fully charged cell phone battery with you. If you are trapped in a building and you phone runs out of power having a spare could mean the difference between life and death
Keep a first aid kit
And perhaps most importantly, look after the people around you. Some people who were rescued immediately from the rubble were just saved, and they and their loved ones will be eternally grateful for the assistance they received. The feeling of camaraderie between the people of Christchurch has been wonderful, if any sort of good can come out of this tragedy it is this.