Christchurch's "Annus Horribilis".

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christchurch has suffered. It has been an "annus horribilis" of a year.

Everyone has their story of what they were doing when both the 4th September 2010 and the  22nd February 2011 major earthquakes struck. The stories are told, not in a vein of "poor me" but the truth simply stated, and almost all of the locals we have talked to, say

 "But we are so lucky to be alive - that's what matters".  

Most locals knew someone well who died, in the short time it took the earthquake to bring down the city centre of Christchurch, 182 were killed and many injured seriously. Public figures, well known TV presenters, children and so many office workers and shoppers lost their lives. 

The city centre, since February a no go zone, has just opened up with an interesting concept of a "container mall". Its correct name is Re-start Mall but we heard it referred to mostly as Container Mall. Two hours of free parking is available to lure shoppers back to the centre and the business’s who previously operated in now demolished, or soon to be demolished, buildings are operating out of shipping containers. A festive atmosphere abounds in the container mall itself, but a more  somber nature is apparent during the Cathedral Square walk where it is possible to walk through a fenced off and semi secure walkway, to see the massive earthquake damage to Christchurch’s City Centre. The locals gaze up to the forever changed skyline and point to where this building and that building used to be, then shaking their heads in disbelief. For many this is the first time they have actually seen the affected city centre other than on TV. Before undertaking the walk, signs warn that the area is still not secure. Not too far away, even though it is Sunday, teams are working huge demolition machinery and serious fencing keeps us away from getting too close.

The Cathedral in ruins brought many locals to a standstill, on the walk through, to gaze and reminisce. It is still not known whether the Anglican Church will restore or rebuild. We read in the newspaper that it is estimated to be 40 million to restore, but perhaps just 5 million to rebuild. Public sentiment is to restore the Cathedral to its former glory.

One local told us the story of his friend who was not rescued for 25 hours and lay injured and conscience all that time. She was only rescued when heavy machinery stopped for a break to brief the newly arrived Australian rescue team and her faint cries were heard. Three hours of cutting then followed, until she emerged with a broken collar bone and cracked ribs. Her number plate for her car prior to the quake was and still is "Carpe Diem" and she said afterwards that this was even more so to be her motto in life from now on. 

Many people have lost their homes but even more difficult is the situation where families are in limbo. Their homes have been stickered as unsafe at this stage to live in due to rock falls, but not "written off" for insurance purposes and they just don’t know when or if they can ever go home, but meanwhile have to pay their mortgage and rates while renting elsewhere.  

We talked with the man who dealt with us when we hired our campervan and he said, many of his friends had left for Australia and he was going soon too. “There is no nightlife anymore” he said. “The clubs and pubs are closed and people now go to the suburban pubs, but it is not the same”    The job situation is chronic too, with many businesses still not re-opened and many closed for good, unable to withstand the financial strain the earthquake put on them.

We were pleased we went into the “Red Zone” City Centre, to get some sort of feel for what the people of Christchurch have been through. What we hadn’t understood previously is that they have had a series of reasonably large earthquakes in the surrounding Canterbury Area and they are still not over. There are still small aftershocks and whilst none happened while we were there we can appreciate how these must make the residents continually on edge!

With our tiny campervan, called a "spaceship" (the blurb says it is the swiss army knife of campers) we are now heading off to explore the South Island’s scenery and sights.
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