You may have heard of Christchurch, a small city in the South Island of New Zealand which has been badly affected by earthquakes starting back in September 2010. We have visited this lovely place many times as my two brothers and their families live there, so we were well aware of the impact on local people.
However our visit in late November 2013 was our first chance to personally witness the devastation that had happened back in the major quake on 22 February 2011, and the impact that the eleven thousand smaller earthquakes since then have on every day life.
185 Empty White Chairs is an installation created by artist Peter Majendieto as a memorial to the 185 people who died that day. What a clever concept to convey such a sad message. I wept as we walked among the chairs, all painted white by volunteers. Everyday chairs, posh chairs, outdoor chairs, office chairs and stools were all there, but it was the wheelchair and the baby capsule that brought me undone. Sadly, many more people were badly injured that day as well, and are still struggling to regain their mental and physical health.
Even now, the city centre resembles those tragic photos that you see of European cities at the end of World War 2 hostilities in 1945. Although the rubble has been cleared away, there are many buildings that are uninhabitable and await demolition… Check out this restaurant, frozen in time from 3 years ago with broken crockery, glasses and shelving still in situ.
Out in suburbia, about 10 000 homes were destroyed or irreparably damaged. My family was “lucky” in that their homes were still habitable although all have needed extensive repairs. There are still many people waiting for repair work. Homes awaiting demolition perch precariously on hilltops, and the roads are protected from falling rocks with shipping containers filled with dirt and rubble.
Our family described the complete lack of control as confronting. I get that. The quakes are not going to end any time soon, so each time there is a tremor they stop and wonder – Will it happen again? Is this the next big one?
In spite of all this, the city and its people are getting on with their lives and that Kiwi ingenuity is certainly creating some vibrancy and fun. We loved the creative outdoor bar and cafes created out of pallets, and the ‘shops in containers’. Kind of pop-up shops with a difference, and many locals hope that they will remain on site even when the city centre is rebuilt.
If you’re going to New Zealand, do yourself and the locals a favour and spend some time exploring Christchurch. It is still a great place to visit!
Have you been to Christchurch recently? What were your impressions?
Look out for our next blog – Two memorable day trips from Christchurch…