30 September 2010

Christchurch after the earthquake

I am just back from three days in Christchurch and environs for work, working for one of the organisations spearheading the recovery efforts after the earthquake of 4 September. I've been all over the city and went down to Timaru and back today (my first time in Timaru). What I've seen is truly weird. Christchurch is still bathed in gorgeous spring sunshine, there is blossom and daffodils everywhere (the city is famous for its parks and gardens, and is generally referred to as the "Garden City"), and in general there is a strong and purposeful air about the place.

Spring blossom outside my motel room (Chardonnay Motor Lodge, Christchurch)

And yet, there is tragedy just under the stoic surface: St John's Latimer Square, just near the main CBD, is absolutely ruined - all the lovely old stonework is smashed - there are buildings propped up with scaffolding, many have been bulldozed (including a number of historic places), bricks on the streets, and a lot of streets in the CBD are still cordoned off because the buildings are unsafe.

St John's Anglican Church Latimer Square, Christchurch

There are chimneys down all over the city, and I saw one church with its steeple lifted off and sitting on the ground because it was unsafe. Some houses are terribly damaged. I saw one road out in the country near the epicentre that had been moved sideways by about 3m - a dead straight road now has a huge waggle in it. Incredible. And one suburb had metre-high piles of sand randomly in the streets where it had liquefied and bubbled up through the cracks in the pavement like geysers.

However, there seems to be a determination to make it work, to go on as much as possible. What concerns me most, both as a Christian and as a health and safety person, is the long-term health of the people around here. Right now, people are coping. But when it gets on for months and months (and it will take years to rebuild Christchurch, and some parts won't be able to be rebuilt), people's resilience is going to fade. There are signs of stress in every face, in everyone I've talked to, but there is also determination not to give in. It's quite incredible really. I pray God holds the people in Canterbury very close over the next months and years.

St John's Anglican Church, Hororata

Today I went down to Timaru to do some work down there (about 2 hours south of Christchurch). I've never been down here before, and it was my first time driving the Canterbury Plains. I have never seen so much flat land in all my life - wide, huge skies, and glimpses of the Southern Alps on the way down - only glimpses because it was quite hazy, and on the way back I couldn't see them at all! Wellington and most of the North Island is folded and rumpled like an old blanket - there, the flat fields seem to go on forever, only interrupted by big tall windbreaks of trees in dead straight lines. Very weird for this Wellingtonian! I liked the wide skies, and I crossed my first braided rivers - another thing you don't get up here - and got a great view of braided rivers from the air on the way out from Christchurch tonight.

I also managed to catch up with my sister and brother-in-law while I was there, which was great - finally saw their lovely home and had a great night of chat and discussion, uninterrupted by earthquakes. Ironically, the only major aftershock today happened while I was on the road down to Timaru and I didn't feel it! Apparently it was quite a jolt though.

I'm glad I got sent down there. It was an incredible privilege working for the organisation that is overseeing and spearheading the recovery process, and I feel that I got to help out (even in a small way). It's the first time I've really had any time in Christchurch on my own, and I was surprised how easily I found my way around - and how much I liked it. It's really beautiful, especially with all the daffodils and spring flowers everywhere. I loved the wide skies of the plains and the interesting cloud formations, but I did miss my hills!

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