Resilient Christchurch

Travelled by Amanda Williams on 11 July 2011 | 1 Comments

Travelled By

Amanda Williams Amanda Williams

Amanda is a 20-something, small-town Ohio girl with a journalism degree under her belt and an unquenchable lust for travel.After studying abroad in New Zealand, Amanda has decided she’d love to move there one day so she can wear jandals, eat hokey pokey ice cream, and continue pretending she understands the rules of rugby. ...Find out more!

Resilient Christchurch

Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night because the house you are sleeping in starts shaking on its foundation, making noises you never thought a house could make?

I have.

And so has everyone who calls Christchurch, New Zealand, home.

It all began back in September 2010, when a strong 7.1-magnitude earthquake rattled the city, but miraculously didn’t take any lives. That rumble must have awoken something in the earth, though, because another strong quake on a different fault line hit the city on the afternoon of February 22, 2011.

While the September quake simply shook things around, the 6.3-magnitude February quake absolutely devastated Christchurch, killing nearly 200 people and bringing countless buildings to the ground.

Even now, the city is still suffering.

In the midst of the daunting clean-up

I had the chance to visit Christchurch on my recent Blog4NZ-sponsored trip around New Zealand’s South Island. I knew that I would undoubtedly see signs of the quake’s destruction, but I don’t think I was fully prepared for the gravity of the situation.

As Westerners, we didn’t hear much about the quake when it happened, and we certainly aren’t hearing much about it now. Even though I knew the city was severely damaged, I think I was a bit naïve in believing that things would be getting back to “normal” by now.

Life is far from “normal” in Christchurch, and will never be the same again for the people living there.

Much of the downtown area of the city is still cordoned off as officials make tough decisions about how to deal with many of the damaged and collapsed buildings. Roads are still closed. Businesses are still displaced. Children are going to school in tents and pre-fabricated trailers because their schools are still damaged. And many people remain without homes.

Kia kaha (meaning "be strong" in Maori) is Christchurch's new mantra.

It was chilling to walk down what had once been a residential street and only hear the sound of jackhammers and heavy machinery in other parts of the city. Big, beautiful stone homes bore red “no go” signs, their insides hastily gutted by fleeing residents. Many had large cracks running the whole length of them. Some were missing walls.

To think that just 15 seconds of the earth shaking could cause so much damage is just mind boggling to me. It was a lot to take in.

I was given a walking tour of the damaged areas of the city, from the crumbled old government buildings, to the fenced-in Arts Centre, to a stretch of shops that was completely reduced to rubble.

In some spots, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that a bomb had gone off there.

Residential Christchurch feeling the effects.

If walking around Christchurch was a sobering experience, though, it was nothing compared to talking with residents who lived through both big quakes and the subsequent aftershocks. Many have harrowing stories of being inside buildings as they shook, fleeing through streets bubbling with liquefaction, or returning home unsure of what they’d find.

I can’t even imagine the terror.

And yet, the scary stories and the aftershocks (I felt a 5.3-magnitude quake myself while there) were not what surprised me most. What surprised me most was the palpable hopeful attitude in Christchurch.

Here is a city that has been suffering, and likely will be suffering for months – maybe even years – to come because of these quakes. And yet the people are friendly, chatty, and genuinely excited about the future of Christchurch.

The hope is for an even more beautiful and stronger city to be built.

In many cases, the earthquake will afford parts of the city a clean slate to rebuild upon. Old buildings that can’t be salvaged will be replaced with new ones. And, for the most part, the people of Christchurch are hopeful about it all.

Most people are aware that things will never truly go back to “normal” in the city, but they are accepting of this fact. They are ready to get up, dust themselves off, and move on. Even though they now go to bed with shoes, phones, and flashlights next to their pillows just in case, they are confident that things will turn around and get better. They are looking forward to Christchurch emerging from this disaster better and more beautiful than before.

As much as the destruction of the city was depressing, the spirit of the people of Christchurch was equally inspiring.

Kia kaha, Christchurch – stay strong.

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