It's almost a week since we got back from Christchurch. Since then, we've been struggling to get our head around some of the things we saw and experienced while we were down there last week.
First up, the scale of the devastation is far worse than the television images portray. For a start, seeing it with your own eyes makes it three dimensional. Obviously, we didn't go inside the cordons, although we did have the opportunity to drive around parts of it after a visit to a hospital. Just along the road, the chemist shop we picked up a prescription from over Christmas/New Year has been levelled. The shop had already moved after its first location was damaged in the September quake.
Fitzgerald Avenue is part of the boundary of the CBD cordon. Part-way down, along by the Avon River half of the road has subsided by several feet. The stench there is dreadful; something that the TV cameras don't capture.
Driving along Moorhouse Avenue, there is widespread damage within the cordon, right to the boundary. We've all seen the images of the Catholic Cathedral; one of Christchurch's most magnificent buildings. In real life, it looks even worse. Churches around the city have taken a pounding; one within the CBD that we couldn't see claimed the life of a family friend.
To the east of the CBD it's pretty chaotic. The roads have taken a huge hit, and driving requires undivided attention. There are some car-sized holes in the road awaiting repair, and the oddest thing is the way that man-hole covers now, instead of sitting flush with the road are at the peak of small hills in the middle of the road. Portaloos are everywhere, symbolic of unseen damage to water and sewage systems below the ground. There is obvious damage/destruction to some house; with others, the damage is less visible. Friends await a full EQC inspection of their home; the EQC guys did an external assessment because no-one was home; not seeing floors that have subsided, walls that are bent and twisted, and ceilings through which one can see the stars. This is not a criticism of EQC either; it merely underlines the scope of the task that they are facing.
Even where we were staying (halfway between Hagley Park and the airport) life was some distance from normal. Water had to be boiled before it could be drunk. Teeth were cleaned using a glass of boiled water rather than tap water, reminding us of our visit to Africa a few years ago. Toilets could only be flushed when absolutely necessary! Any travel across town involved a doubling of the normal time allocation. Compared to what some are suffering, these were minor inconveniences, but it underlines that life has changed for everyone in Christchurch.
As we commented last week though, it is the response of people we met that had the most profound impact on us. Even at the funeral of an earthquake victim we attended, people we spoke to are staying put. Their homes may have been battered, bruised and in many instances completely munted, but they are committed to rebuilding their homes and their lives in and around Christchurch. An elderly relative can't wait to get back to her home in Sumner.
Sure; there have been frustrations for business owners in the CBD being refused access to their properties. The sheer scale of this tragedy though is far beyond anything that Civil Defence has experienced before, and mistakes, while regrettable are inevitable. It seems though that the message has got through, and watching the early TV news this morning, it is being reported that more business owners will be able to get in and salvage essentials today. That is a step in the right direction. Business has been hugely affected by the February 22nd 'quake, and recovery is going to be a long and gradual process.
Rebuilding Christchurch is going to be expensive; that's inescapable. But it is a cost that New Zealand must bear. Christchurch is the South Island's commercial heart, and the tourist gateway to the South Island. Much as we (as a people) like to deride Christchurch in the same manner that we do do Auckland, there is enormous goodwill towards the Garden City. Our own links there are strong, with whanau on both sides. Christchurch must be rebuilt, and we look forward to a vibrant new CBD emerging from the rubble of February 22nd, but one that acknowledges and embraces Christchurch's rich heritage.