Another Planet (AKA Christchurch)

On February 22nd 2011 Christchuch, New Zealand was hit by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake which and struck at a depth of 5km, 10km south-east of Christchurch CBD. 182 people died.
I visited in January 2012 and was unprepared for the sights I saw there. It was a place I did not want to be.
I looked down Hereford Street and saw the remains of the Christchurch Cathedral but was distracted by a building to the right of my vision where someone stuck inside had spray painted 'HELP' on a beam, visible through a window. My Chirstchurch dwelling companion told me stairwells collapsed and people were winched out by rope.

Near The Statue of Remembrance, The Tap Room restaurant still depicts a moment frozen in time - shattered crockery and glasses litter the floor and the tables are no longer in line, but remains of meals remain on tables waiting for their eaters to return 11 months later, tabs presumably still open.

The new converted shipping container mall on Cashel Street brings signs of life and hope. Shops and brands I would love to see all in one place in Auckland. Then I remember this was one of the worst hit areas of town and that is what has made this possible. The buildings have already been demolished and people died here.

Across the cordon we watched cranes taking down the Grand Chancellor. Still standing proud is the Westpac logo at the top of a building yet to be taken down. It had been 15 years since I was in Christchurch (with the exception of the airport) so I have little attachment to what once was or how it has changed. But if it were the Wellington centrepieces of Manners Street or Featherston Street at the centre of this cordon I would be incredibly sad.

I remember as an 11 year old, watching gondolas punt down the Avon river. They are now gone, the city side of the river overgrown while the other is still well maintained - like the Avon is the division between where daily life goes on and where only bulldozers go.

You can drive around parts of Christchurch and forget there has ever been an earthquake here, and then suddenly there is a fence on an angle, a boarded up window or a road which was once flat and straight but is now undulated. Keep driving and the abandoned houses begin with overgrown front lawns, emptiness through windows, cracks on exterior walls and missing chimneys. There is silt everywhere. Who in New Zealand even knew the word 'liquefaction' before these earthquakes?

We drove through New Brighton and Parklands considering what has been deemed 'Red Zone' and to be demolished, compared to what is deemed repairable. But there are signs of life going on - people still put their bins out on rubbish day.

S Kennerley

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