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.
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.
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.
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