It’s easy to become busy with life and the challenges that it brings and discount opportunities to stop and reflect. As I look back over the past few years and consider where I was on 22nd of February 2011 I appreciate that things could have easily turned out differently for my family and I. On the day of the 6.3 earthquake I was in my office in High Street. I was running late for a lunch date in the Cashel Street mall, which upon reflection possibly saved my life.
The magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the Canterbury region at 12:51 pm. The earthquake was centred 2 kilometres west of the town of Lyttelton, and 10 kilometres south-east of the centre of Christchurch, New Zealand's second-most populous city. It followed nearly six months after the magnitude 7.1 Canterbury earthquake of 4 September 2010, which caused significant damage to Christchurch and the central Canterbury region, but no direct fatalities.
The earthquake caused widespread damage across Christchurch, especially in the central city and eastern suburbs, with damage exacerbated by buildings and infrastructure already being weakened by the 4 September 2010 earthquake and its aftershocks. Significant liquefaction affected the eastern suburbs, producing around 400,000 tonnes of silt. The February 2011 Christchurch earthquake was a powerful natural event that severely damaged New Zealand's second-largest city, killing 185 people in one of the nation's deadliest peacetime disasters.
Our serviced offices shook violently; I remember vividly looking out the window and seeing flying bricks from surrounding buildings, dust then poor visibility with the sound of screaming from those in our building. Once the initial earthquake occurred, people grabbed their personal belongings and were out the door to check on friends and family. I was the last person out of the building, making sure that everyone was out. As I stood on High Street the din of sirens was surreal. We have all watched war-time movies where you hear your heart beating and that is the only sound you hear, I was steering in disbelief of what lay before me.
To my left there was a steady stream of people flooding from the Cashel Street Mall area, many with blood, in shock and some just standing still. I reached out to a few to encourage them to follow the crowd out of the city as it was the safest place to be. There were obvious signs of the destruction that occurred with building parts scattered across the road, verandas on the ground, cars flattened and abandoned. As I walked and looked to the right I saw the old ANZ Chambers Building (Corner of Lichfield/High) on the ground, with the dome upside down in the middle of Lichfield Street, across the road Reuben Blades (Corner of Manchester/Lichfield) suffered the same fate and there was carnage everywhere.
It dawned on me that everyone was out of our building but my laptop and personal belongings were still there. I made the call to go and grab them and head home. As I entered the building, I saw superficial damage, Shaun (our building owner) had made significant investments a few years ago to restore our historical building and it stood up well to the challenge.
Back on High Street now I decided I would see if there was any way I could grab my car (as it would be a long walk home), it was parked in the Pavilion Car park on Bedford Row.
As I turned the corner it was very clear that this wasn’t possible, so I continued down to Madras Street following the crowd. As I turned left I saw the CTV building gone… The police had just arrived and were taping off the area.
The CTV Building was the headquarters of Canterbury Television (locally known as CTV) and other companies. Located in the Christchurch Central City on the corner of Cashel and Madras Streets, it became one of the symbols of the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake. More than 100 people lost their lives in the building; more than half of the earthquake's fatalities occurred when this one building collapsed.
I stood there in disbelief that a large building like this can simply disappear. I headed up Cashel Street and around the block towards Moorhouse Avenue as there were too many people and streets were becoming cordoned off by police. I ran into a few people I knew – it’s interesting that a familiar face can make you feel calm in this type of situation.
I was starting to get sore carrying my backpack – A few days prior I had dislocated my shoulder for a second time in a month and so I decided I needed to start my long journey walking home. Eventually after some hours I made it home.
Many things have happened since that horrid day, including over 10000 aftershocks which still manage to sneak up and surprise you today. A small number of people have had houses repaired, Over 6000 houses have been red-zoned by the government with the majority still sit in a state of limbo as EQC, Insurance companies, Council, contractors etc. deal with the interpretations of law/eligibility, new building codes/consent etc.
On April the 18th 2012 the Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee announced a new Christchurch Central Development Unit, stating it would be given 100 days to prepare a "Blueprint for Action", so time will tell once this report is delivered.
About midway through last year I was feeling somewhat sorry for myself – My house had in excess of NZ$250000 worth of damage, my office was stuck in the red zone (and still is) and there was little sign of progress in terms for repairs from the 4th of September 2010 earthquake to this great city.
I remember going to a house warming of some friends who lived in the Eastern Suburbs, their house was in the red zone and had been red stickered. They purchased a house over my side of town and they were settling into their new place. As their guests arrived the conversation quickly changed to focus on the impact of the earthquake on their lives and the frustrations they were having with EQC, Insurance, lack of answers etc. It’s really easy to move on if you’ve suffered minor damage. For most of us, the biggest single investment we have in life is our home. It’s a place where we go after a hard days work to relax and enjoy our family time. It’s very hard to do this when there’s a constant reminder of damage in your house.
I needed to kick myself in the pants to appreciate the things I did have, versus the things I didn’t. It’s often easy to take things for granted or not appreciate friends and family until you no longer have them. I decided I wanted to spend Christmas 2011 away from ‘shakes’ and do some soul searching. After some scouting about, I chose a place that I had always wanted to visit –Vietnam. Itinerary
I flew from Christchurch to Auckland/Bangkok, had a few days there, and then onto Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). The 10 days I spent on the Intrepid Journey tour was exactly what I wanted and needed. What awesome people, culture and food.
On the 23rd of December 2011 while I was in Hoi An, Vietnam, Christchurch was again rocked by a series of 6.0, 5.0, 5.4 and 5.0 earthquakes. I now had an appreciation for hearing this awful news and being so far away. I felt useless being so far away, ironically it’s similar when you live in city and you’re in survival mode. Needless to say reconnecting with the family over Facebook was the only medium available as phone networks were again impacted.
On the way home I spend a few days in Bangkok and decided that I would go on a train journey to look at the flood damage caused in the Thailand floods in July. I guess I’m the sort of person that likes perspective and I could empathise with the impact this has had on their lives, city and country.
The impact to this area was still very real with the stain line from the floods still visible on buildings and ruins. I guess this journey has taught me a number of things, the key reinforcements for me are family family family, friends friends friends.
This brings me back to present day. Whenever I have colleagues from work visit Christchurch for the first time since the quakes I’m always interested in their response. I guess the reality is that unless you’ve seen the devastation here it’s very hard to comprehend. Every week there’s buildings coming down in the city, and we’re starting to see empty lots in suburbs as badly damaged houses are removed. I guess it’s easy to become frustrated when people ask “Hey, so are things getting back to normal?”. There’s a new normal in Christchurch, one which involves removal of the old and damaged to make room for the new and exciting. People ask because they care and I appreciate the fact that people are still asking.
I continue to see this as a great opportunity to build a world class city with world class infrastructure as the barriers and obstacles that we were once faced with have changed. We are seeing elements of progress, a lot of the buildings in the Central Business District have been removed, we are starting to see driveways/fences repaired and it doesn’t take too long when talking to people around you to hear of houses being repaired. This is going to be a long journey, one that our kids and future generations will benefit largely from – I’m fine with that.
Live in the moment, plan for your future and make the most of the friends and family you have about you. The spirit of Christchurch is alive and well and we continue to be well supported by the rest of our nation. Kia Kaha.