Saturday, February 22, 2014

Three years on from 6.3

Wow, it's three years today since the earthquake that wrecked Christchurch, when Scott the house-painter put down his brush and came inside to watch the astonishing, incredible, horrifying news on TV with me on a hot, sunny afternoon. The quake killed 185 people, not just Kiwis but visitors and students from the Philippines, Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Israel, Turkey, the USA, Canada and Ireland; the oldest was a woman of 88, the youngest babies of 5 weeks and 8 months. It also wrecked the lives of everyone who lived in the city, some temporarily, most long-term, others forever; and no-one in the country remains untouched. Either they know someone who died or, this being the land of 2 Degrees, someone who knows someone who died. Then there are those of us still mourning the loss of the city we knew and loved; and those whose sense of physical security in this faultline-riddled country is now as fractured as all those heritage buildings.

Canterbury's had more than 12,000 after-shocks, most of them piddling but enough magnitude 4+ to keep nerves frayed. The city is full of empty blocks blowing with dust, the roads are still lumpy and littered with orange cones, whole suburbs are vacant, too many people are still waiting for insurance claims to be settled, and the arguments continue over the fate of Christ Church Cathedral, and where to place the blame for the CTV building's collapse.

But life there continues too, and there is plenty of optimism and enthusiasm for the new Christchurch that is - so slowly - starting to take shape. It will be very different from what was there before, and it will be unashamedly new, but also greener, more spacious, more people-friendly. That's the plan, anyway. Right now it's neither one thing nor the other: impossible when you're there to picture it as it was, hard to imagine how it will be. The connections with the old Christchurch, my home town, are for me now mostly memories with little concrete left to anchor them to (actually, lots and lots of concrete, altogether too dominant). I do so wish the earthquake hadn't happened.

In a week's time, though, the news will be all about Japan and Fukushima, also marking their third anniversary of disaster, on so much greater a scale, and the focus will shift away. Meanwhile, in Christchurch, the weeds will keep growing through the cracked foundations of ordinary people's lives.

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