We visited Christchurch back in mid-August 2013, two and a half years after the earthquake destroyed the city. As we travelled around NZ getting closer and closer to this destination we were told that Christchurch was still a mess, a city full of destruction which is just really quiet and empty. As per normal I didn’t want to believe anyone’s word for how bad the destruction in Christchurch was; I mean it was two and a half years ago how bad could it be?
The earthquake which brought the city down struck at 12.51pm on the 22nd of February 2011, it was the second large earthquake to hit in less than a year. This meant buildings were weakened when the fatal earthquake struck and significantly more damage was caused to the whole city because of this. The aftershocks of the quake were then felt for months after with large magnitudes still being recorded in June 2011 – where the already destroyed Cathedral sustained more damage.
The iconic Cathedral of Christchurch was so badly damaged, it lost its spire but sustained much more damage and will have to be torn down eventually. It was deemed too dangerous to enter after further inspections showed the pillars supporting the building had been weaken and were no longer strong enough to support the building. The Cathedral was an iconic part of the city and has since been part of a huge court battle – even when I visited in August 2013 it seems all destruction work is still on hold.
A beautiful temporary Cathedral was commissioned in July 2012, built from cardboard tubes, timber and steel – it has gotten the nickname ‘Cardboard Cathedral’. The Cathedral took a lot longer to build than planned (again due to court rulings and cost) and actually opened in August 2013 to the public.
We arrived in Christchurch on a chilly, grey winters day; I was desperate to see as much of the city as possible over our day and a half here. We headed in to the main ‘CBD’ area and I just stared, mouth open not really knowing how to feel. There was so much empty space where buildings had been torn down, there were de-construction sites wherever we looked and some streets still looked untouched like the earthquake happened a few months ago not years. Sections of roads were still closed, buildings fenced off and an eery sound of silence mixed with construction work. It felt very strange walking around Christchurch, I just kept reminding myself that there was more construction going on than de-construction and that they had just recently turned that corner.
After visiting Quake City the museum come information centre, I learnt that these spray painted circles were drawn on upon the police completing their search of the building in the days and weeks after February 22nd. It read the date and time of clearing and after that the building was locked up and left to be demolished.
The re-building work of Christchurch is a long and slow process, they do not want a short term fix. They are after a fix that will secure the city for life, so they are carefully taking apart each building before going on to rebuild everything fully ‘earthquake proof’. They have big visions for the city but it is going to take a lot of time and money to complete the mammoth task at hand. Until you see the city yourself and go to Quake City it is hard to understand why it feels like barely anything has been done. Once you understand the extent of the damage and how much work they have to do to de-construct everything you will realise why the city looks like it does two and a half years on. The Re-Start mall was built in October 2011 and was built to give the people of Christchurch somewhere to call their city centre. A shopping centre built from shipping containers has become a big attraction for Christchurch.
Quake City – Is an attraction and museum based in the Re-Start mall, it features: all the info you need on the earthquake, survival stories and iconic objects, explanations of the science of earthquakes, photos and stories of the emergency rescue teams and the dreams of what Christchurch will be like in the future.
Have you been to Christchurch before or after the quake? What were your thoughts?
I for one would love to go back when the re-build is complete because it think it will be one amazing city once all the work is complete.