Thinking of Christchurch

A photograph taken of Christchurch from the Port Hills just 7 minutes after the quake hit on...
A photograph taken of Christchurch from the Port Hills just 7 minutes after the quake hit on February 22, 2011. Photo: Getty Images
Can you recall where you were and what you were doing 10 years ago today?

At 12.51pm on Tuesday, February 22, 2011, several metres of volcanic rock about 5km below Christchurch’s Port Hills cracked and unleashed a catastrophic earthquake across the city.

About 15 seconds of violent shaking left large parts of Christchurch traumatised and in ruins, ultimately causing the deaths of 185 people.

"We may be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day," then prime minister Sir John Key said that afternoon. For many in Christchurch, that dark day turned into days, then dark weeks and months. For some, struggling with grief over lost family members and friends, and/or battling to have broken homes repaired, it has been their darkest decade.

Can it really be 10 years ago? The anniversaries of such tragic events come round inexorably. For some it feels like only yesterday; to others, it was a lifetime ago.

The magnitude-6.2 Christchurch earthquake is one of those historic moments of such great import that it, literally and metaphorically, stopped the clocks.

Most of us can remember what we were engaged in at the time of the quake. It was felt widely across the South Island and the lower North Island; here in the South, many got a fright as the waves rolled through about a minute or so after the ground ruptured under Christchurch.

On previous anniversaries of February 22 and in recent days there have been plenty of stories reliving the nightmares of those trapped in collapsed buildings, reminding us of the courage of rescuers and everyday folk thrust into extraordinary situations which nobody should have to face.

Today will be especially hard for some to deal with. While many will find remembrance, and public ceremonies, cathartic, some do not want to go through it all again, and would rather have a quiet day or head out of town.

So how is Christchurch faring now? Anyone who has visited the central city in the past year will have noticed an energy returning to its streets.

However, looming large over the chaos of Cathedral Square, is the rump of the Te Pae Convention and Exhibition Centre, a potential white elephant in the Covid-19 world which serves to remind residents of the heavy hand of the former National government in establishing now much-delayed anchor projects around the city.

Incredibly there are still folk seeking justice for loved ones who lost their lives in poorly designed buildings. And unbelievably there are still many hundreds wrangling with insurance companies over home repairs. The EQC’s disgraceful public response remains a bad taste in the mouth for thousands, as does shonky work from so-called "engineers" who were happy to see foundations shored up with chunks of wood.

And then of course there was the spying debacle, when private security firm Thompson and Clark, working for the government’s insurance agency Southern Response, recorded several closed meetings of claimants without their knowledge.

There are plenty of bureaucrats out there who should feel thoroughly ashamed of how they treated stressed-out city residents.

On the other side of the ledger, however, plaudits to the National government for its employers’ subsidies, which kept thousands of people in work and businesses afloat.

Take time today to think about Christchurch and what happened. Think about the horror and anguish experienced by thousands that still reverberates. Think about the way many were treated by their own government, by officials and by big corporates. Think about a generation of young people and the anxiety and mental health issues they have to cope with after the earthquakes.

But think also about the kindness, neighbourliness and better aspects of human nature which came to the fore in the weeks and months afterwards. And hope too that the next place where this happens has taken notice of the lessons from Christchurch and is as prepared as possible for years of recovery ahead.

Comments

We all have a story to tell. I'm one of many who should not have survived it. I said at the beginning it would take 2 decades to bring Chch back to normal. Many laughed then but its working out correct. Sadly for us residents, we will never forget the govt of the day with their hands off approach & the local leader who was heartless. They gave the repair contracts to their cronies, many of who ran off overseas with sub contractors wages, shafted the red zoners & the way the PM criticised the Police. And while every fire station has been replaced, we are one fire truck less in Chch now. They are the things I remember sadly but the worst memory will be the Cathedral debacle which pitted residents against each other & created an anti church brigade. We could have had a replacement up by now but this repair job will require millions more in funding in addition the govts $25mil & the ratepayers $10mil. Then there was the wasted $11mil spent on a 2nd memorial when there was already one at Avonhead that Chch people are oblivious to. And are Chch drivers any more courteous on our roads = no.
On a positive note I will remember the road cones with flowers in them & the Student Army.

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