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Christchurch Before and After the Earthquakes

Christchurch Before and After the Earthquakes

I have lived in Christchurch City most of my life. I find it difficult to describe the sense of loss at the disappearance of so many of the city’s buildings following the series of devastating earthquakes starting with the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on 4 September 2010. It is as if the soul of the city has gone. So many buildings in the CBD have been erased that it is now almost unrecognisable. There are vast open spaces between office blocks that just don’t look right at all. I suspect it will be a long time, if ever before these spaces are filled with new structures.

Many businesses have now moved out into the suburbs. Any new office space erected in the inner city will be very expensive to rent which is a major deterrent to many who might otherwise return. Before the quakes, there were large numbers of small cafés and shops which have now long since found business premises elsewhere.

Sweeping and cleaning up in Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch City, after the big earthquake. The photograph was taken on 22 February 2011.

The effect of the earthquakes on the city’s people is far more difficult to see. One of the bizarre aspects of the disastrous earthquakes has been the random nature in which people’s lives were affected. The less powerful but shallower magnitude 6.3 earthquake on Tuesday 22 February 2011 at 12.51 in the afternoon killed at least 180 people and injured several thousand more. Thousands of people also lost their homes and livelihoods.

Huge numbers of people had to find alternative accommodation, either because their homes were destroyed or seriously damaged, or has happened in many cases those renting were tossed out to make the house available to someone else, or for it to be sold. Rents on the remaining housing stock rose rapidly forcing many tenants to move on to other parts of the country where rents were cheaper.

Many homeowners with fully insured, but damaged houses, found themselves in limbo waiting for endless assessments and repairs to be carried out. Their situations were made worse by being told a different storey after every scope of work.

Yet others suffered few ill effects following the quakes finding instead that their mostly undamaged houses were suddenly rising in market value. The eastern side of the city has largely been ignored. Those who could afford new homes have moved north, south and west, changing the demographics of the population considerably.

One of my most enduring memories of those terrible days was the powerful sense of community spirit and the willingness of total strangers to pitch in and help others in any way they could.

I wish that I had purchased a good 35mm camera back in the 1970s and shot a couple of rolls of film each week – which would have been quite expensive back then. Such photographs would have been a treasure trove today. In later years I took many pictures around the city not realizing of course that many of the buildings would soon be destroyed in the big Christchurch earthquake on Tuesday 22 February 2011.


Corner Cathedral Square and Worcester Street after the big earthquake: The photograph was taken on 1 October 2013 after the big Christchurch earthquake.
Above: Barrow’s Buildings, Papanui Road, Merivale, Christchurch, New Zealand, before the earthquakes. The photo was taken on 28 December 2009.
Barrow’s Buildings, Papanui Road, Merivale, Christchurch, New Zealand, after the earthquakes. The photo was taken on 18 March 2011. The brick facade fell forward onto Papanui Road.
Statue of William Rolleston, in Rolleston Avenue, outside Canterbury Museum. Rolleston was Superintendent of the Canterbury Province from 1868 until 1877. The photograph was taken on 21 February 2011 just one day before the big Christchurch earthquake during which his statue tipped over.
William Rolleston statue the following day with its head broken off. This photograph was taken on 22 February 2011 at 5.40 pm. The magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck Canterbury at 12:51 pm on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 local time. In total 185 people lost their lives. Photograph: Allan Burgess
Just after the big earthquake William Rolleston statue outside Canterbury Museum.
Soldiers with a LAV (light armoured vehicle) New Zealand Army, cordon the central city business district of Christchurch which was extensively damaged. 24 February 2011.
Police and army cordon around Christchurch Central City red zone. Photograph was taken 24 February 2011.
New Zealand Urban Search and Rescue Team after the big earthquake.
Before the big earthquake: Worcester Boulevard walking towards the Square 2 July 2010.
Before the big earthquake: Christchurch City Council’s first permanent Municipal Chambers were built in 1887 in Queen Anne style, Christchurch, New Zealand. The photograph was taken on 2 July 2010.
After the big earthquake: Christchurch City Council’s first permanent Municipal Chambers. The photograph was taken 1 October 2013.
A police officer and soldier from the New Zealand Army stand guard at one of the entrances to the closed central business district in Gloucester Street in June 2012.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel seriously damaged in the earthquakes was later demolished.
Corner Cathedral Square and Worcester Street before the big earthquake: Photograph taken on 16 July 2011 before the big Christchurch earthquake.

A severe earthquake struck Canterbury (magnitude from 7.0 to 7.1) on September 4, 2010, at 4:35 AM. The largest destructive aftershock (magnitude 6.3) occurred on February 22, 2011, at 12.51 PM.

Buildings and roads across the Christchurch region, already weakened by the September quake and its aftershocks, were badly damaged or destroyed in the February event. The Christchurch city centre was hit particularly hard. During the months afterwards, it was established that more than 180 people had died in the quake that occurred at lunchtime under a sunny blue sky. Many people were killed outright by falling masonry as structures collapsed and debris fell from buildings, crushing cars and buses as well.

The worst loss of life occurred in the 6-story Canterbury Television (CTV) building where 115 people lost their lives when the building collapsed during the disaster. The deaths made up about 60% of the earthquake’s total fatalities.

Other New Zealand Photo Galleries you may enjoy:

Canvastown, Trout Hotel and Wakamarina Valley Gold Rush – Marlborough Canvastown and Wakamarina Valley are interesting places to explore during a day trip or extended holiday, old gold workings, camping, swimming and trout fishing.

Wellington Central – A Quick Look at Wellington City through the Camera Lens Central Wellington is one of the few places in New Zealand where you could live quite happily without the need to own a car. Everything is within easy walking distance. If you do need to go a bit further the bus and train service is excellent.

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Allan Burgess

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  • Hi Allan. Visited Christchurch recently after many years away and it is sad to see so many landmarks gone. I seem to remember a fairly large Irish pub a short walk from the Cathedral but can't remember the name. Looks like it's all gone now, along with a lot of the shops around the square. Hope the reconstruction speeds up a bit. Best wishes, Phil Elliott

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    • Hi Philip, I know what you mean. Some parts of inner Christchurch are now so different from before the quakes that I get quite disorientated. It can be hard to get your bearings or remember what was on that site before. Sad really.

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Allan Burgess

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