Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christchurch Earthquake - near a year on

Erin's artistic response to the loss of her house in the February, 2011 earthquake.

Taking apart Christchurch one stone at a time.
Earlier in December Erin and I walked into Cathedral Square, closed since the earthquake last February. The municipal government is working hard to have people reconnect with their city. For three weekends only, a two block long fenced-in walkway was opened to the Square. People, hanging on the fences looking down the familiar but now empty streets, watched giant cranes taking apart the tall office buildings and hotels too dangerous to enter. At the square people gawp at the shattered cathedral. There is a debate about both the secular and religious heritage values associated with this city icon but the expense of reconstructing the whole city appears to have doomed this stone pile.

Odd to see modern office buildings tilted so far from mathematical perfection.

Pedestal without a statue. The founder lost.
Most churches in town have heavy steel beams leaning into the walls, one had the two ends of the transcept punched out, only after seeing this dark void did I notice that the complete church steeple was neatly set on a wooden stand in the parking lot out in front. The churches especially are unnerving, they portray a post-rapture landscape. Still, it is summer and the cherries are ripe so even post-rapture has its charms.

City supplied outhouses on the street mark the homes of determined residents.

I took a five hour hour bike ride through the earthquake damaged parts of Christchurch where Erin and Stephen used to live. Built on reclaimed land (swamp with dirt on it) the eastern part of the city was the worst hit. As I entered the neighbourhood you could see the roads change from pavement to gravel. Still occupied neighbourhoods are marked with portable toilets parked along the street. A heavy blue hose snakes along the sidewalk delivering fresh water to houses via attached garden hoses. As I move further along however the number of toilets along the curb dwindles. Then the blue hose stops and you enter the empty blocks.

A wilding garden
Yards are deep in a year's unkempt growth, vegetation flourishes in the damp and mild Canterbury summer. Unclipped rose bushes stretch above their supporting bowers and fushia and other flowers branch out wildly. The grass grows tall in most yards, but it seems at least a few people drop by to mow the lawn and look in on their house - home now somewhere else, possibly one of the always “no-vacancy” motels along the main entries to the city awaiting insurance and engineering decisions about their future.

The Yellow card that makes you leave home.
Too dangerous to enter, a Red card.
The town is full of construction and de-construction workers. Heritage advocates are making the case for the preservation of at least some of the Gothic-Victorian architectural face of colonial Christchurch.
At the same time the city heritage park has developed a collection of earthquake debris. The earthquake is on its way into history.
Few of the houses look damaged. Some have lost portions of their brick veneer, most are without chimneys, often just a ragged blue tarp is tied around a stump of bricks. But looking along the street there is a lot of “out of the corner of your eye” abnormalities - roof lines have a bend, several houses on the river bank look like they've nose-dived into the earth and a footbridge is almost tied in a knot. Regardless, almost all are scheduled for demolition.
Foot bridge over the Avon River in Linwood, a few blocks from Erin and Stephen's old place.
A rememberance of the fishmonger who died when her shop collapsed. We shopped there during our stay in 2009. Both sides of this street corner were devastated, fish shop, bakery, diary and news agent are now just weedy brick-strewn  lots.
I ride along one of these broken streets, the road surface covered in fine silt, large holes swallowing orange warning cones and empty windows staring mindlessly at the street. There are no people, no barking dogs, no cars, a few have fading handwritten signs warning off trespassers. Whole blocks of houses, some 6,000 in all, home for 20,000+ people, will be levelled and cleared. Many places will never be built on again.

I watch one of the first of these houses being turned into a pile of iron roofing, a stack of bricks and a large midden of smashed doors, clumps of gypsum and wall paper amid shards of timber that once rang with the sounds of shared meals, family celebrations and lives lived. It is wrenching. The city is collecting people's experiences of the earthquakes, they are available at Kete Christchurch.

Over the past week there have been more earthquakes, Christmas shopping interrupted, more liquifaction covering streets, gardens and filling houses with fine silt. The seismologists assure Canterburians that these are the final settling of the previously unknown fault under Pegasus Bay but...  there's nothing quite like being literally shaken out of bed early in the morning with your first thought being "get into an interior wall corner and pray."

1 comment:

  1. Photos to keep in mind for when you think that you're having a bad day :(