Hope rises in quake city

The fear has gone and res­i­dents see a bright fu­ture as a new Christchurch springs to life

Central and North Burnett Times - - READ - BY Letea Ca­van­der

CHRISTCHURCH res­i­dent Me­ladey Bras knew there was some­thing wrong when the locks on her fil­ing cab­i­nets snapped and shot across the room. “I went un­der the desk, and then it was like it was si­lent in my own head but it wasn’t si­lent. I think it was shock,” she said.

At 12.51pm on Fe­bru­ary 22, 2011, a 6.3-mag­ni­tude earth­quake hit 10km south-east of Christchurch city at a depth of 5km.

Ms Bras, at the time a youth hos­tel man­ager, was work­ing in her of­fice in the city’s cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict, on Manch­ester St. As thou­sands of res­i­dents like her tried to shel­ter from fall­ing de­bris, or en­act their emer­gency plans, the ground be­neath whole sub­urbs and some of the CBD started turn­ing to mud.

As the ground shook, a process called liq­ue­fac­tion oc­curred. Sand grains be­came packed closer to­gether, squeez­ing the wa­ter up and out of the ground.

The worst-hit ar­eas of the city were those where houses had been built on loosely com­pacted an­cient river or beach sands and sandy soils close to bod­ies of wa­ter, around the Avon River and close to the es­tu­ary.

Back in Manch­ester St, as the shak­ing eased, Ms Bras, a Christchurch res­i­dent of 35 years, crawled from un­der the desk to as­sess the dam­age.

“Ev­ery­thing was ev­ery­where. You know, you have these cri­sis man­age­ment plans – you have torches, you have all this stuff – ready for any con­tin­gency, but in an earth­quake you’re in a pile of rub­ble and there’s no light. You’ve lost all your elec­tric­ity.”

Luck­ily, Ms Bras kept a torch in her desk, which she pulled out. Her thoughts in­stantly turned to the staff and trav­ellers at the youth hos­tels she man­aged.

“I didn’t know if any of my staff were alive. I didn’t know if any part of the build­ing had come down,” she said.

She started look­ing for her work­ers, and then be­gan to co-or­di­nate peo­ple on the ground.

“Peo­ple were try­ing to run up to get their things, but you can’t have them do­ing that,” she said. “You have to try and stop them.” At 4.21pm, the Christchurch mayor at the time, Bob Parker, de­clared a state of emer­gency, which was fol­lowed by Prime Min­is­ter John Key’s call of a na­tional state of emer­gency the next day.

Out­side the city’s CBD, in what would even­tu­ally be­come part of the res­i­den­tial red zone, Monique Poul­ter, 24, was in her par­ents’ home in Queens­bury St, Bur­wood.

“It was pretty scary. We’d al­ready been through the Septem­ber (2010) quake, but we watched the cracks open in our drive­way and heard the flood­ing. It was scary watch­ing the ground open and the whole house sway­ing,” she said. “The house has since been de­mol­ished.” Christchurch’s res­i­den­tial red zone, deemed ei­ther too dan­ger­ous or un­eco­nomic to re­build in the short to medium term fol­low­ing the quake, snakes along the Avon River across 630ha and takes in thou­sands of homes.

In to­tal, 185 peo­ple died, 164 peo­ple were se­ri­ously in­jured and there was ma­jor dam­age across the city.

Six years af­ter the quake a cli­mate of hope is start­ing to pre­vail. Ms Poul­ter said some peo­ple were bet­ter off, fi­nan­cially, fol­low­ing the dis­as­ter.

“My par­ents ended up mort­gage-free. So there are some re­ally good sto­ries out of it, but there are the peo­ple who are still fight­ing (for their pay­outs),” she said.

City res­i­dent Craig Gibb, 34, had a house in a sub­urb slightly

Our gen­er­a­tion has seen the re­build, but our kids are the ones who will reap the re­wards.

east of the CBD. He bought it be­tween the Septem­ber 2010 quake and the Fe­bru­ary 2011 quake, and lived in it for three weeks be­fore it was de­stroyed.

“I had four or five years of wait­ing. They (his in­sur­ance com­pany) de­cided to pay me out so we agreed on a fig­ure,” he said. He bought an­other home. “To be hon­est it suited me best to not gam­ble. Once you take the money, if there’s any vari­a­tions or any­thing un­ex­pected it’s on you.

“There are peo­ple out there that were fi­nan­cially crip­pled, we’re just lucky it wasn’t us.”

Ms Poul­ter, a mum, said she was more wary of quakes since hav­ing her son, Ja­cob, one.

“But I’d never move from Christchurch. It’s home. An earth­quake won’t make me move,” she said.

Ms Poul­ter’s friend, Caitlin Stock­man, 24, said she was ex­cited for her and Ms Poul­ter’s ba­bies and the op­por­tu­ni­ties for them in the city, post-earth­quake.

“Our gen­er­a­tion has seen the re­build, but our kids are the ones who will reap the re­wards,” she said.

In the Christchurch CBD, the sound of grind­ing, ham­mer­ing and rev­ers­ing trucks is heard for much of the day.

On June 30, 2013, the last cor­don of the cen­tral re­build zone was re­moved and de­vel­op­ers moved in. Ac­cord­ing to the

Christchurch City Coun­cil, the cost of the city’s re­build is es­ti­mated at $40 bil­lion.

Builder Vaughan Wil­liams, 50, who was born and raised in Christchurch, lost his own home in the sub­urb Park­lands and has since re­built. He said the mood in the city had im­proved over time, and the re­build ef­fort had gen­er­ated much work for city res­i­dents and over­seas work­ers.

“There’s a very large Filipino com­mu­nity in Christchurch now, and a lot of Ir­ish and English. Pretty much if they can get here, they come. There’s a lot of Brazil­ian and Chilean labour­ers too,” he said.

“Even peo­ple here on hol­i­days are find­ing work through the agen­cies. The jobs are start­ing to come through now but they’ve taken a long time.”

Mr Wil­liams said the build­ing in­dus­try was quiet be­fore the quake in Fe­bru­ary, 2011.

“Af­ter that it gave – it seems hard to say, but it gave Christchurch the kick it needed to get go­ing again,” he said.

Mr Wil­liams said things were a lot brighter in the city than they were two years ago, as fewer af­ter­shocks hit Christchurch.

“Peo­ple are a lot more happy within them­selves, I think. I can hon­estly say that any­one who was here for the big ones, the minute you hear that noise com­ing, ev­ery­thing stops and you’re just wait­ing to see what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” he said.

“It’s still in the back of your mind, but peo­ple are liv­ing with it now. Peo­ple aren’t scared to go into build­ings any more, which is good.”

Mr Wil­liams also said the city was be­com­ing home to ar­chi­tec­turally de­signed struc­tures with strict build­ing codes. “You’re a lot safer in them now,” he said. Ms Poul­ter’s part­ner, Mitch Arch­bold, 24, said he liked the change oc­cur­ring in the city.

He said he had no short­age of work as a drain layer in the new sub­urbs spring­ing up.

“It’s the best thing that could have hap­pened for me. When I started, you couldn’t get a job. All the trades have boomed and the tradies have work,” Mr Arch­bold said. Mr Gibb, Ms Stock­man’s part­ner, also was op­ti­mistic. “It is an ex­cit­ing time. The kids will be able to get trades or walk into jobs, and ex­pe­ri­ence a new city from scratch,” he said.

Ms Bras, who lost her youth hos­tel job when the build­ing col­lapsed and now works as a driver, said the fu­ture for the city was bright.

“For some­one like me, who didn’t get hurt, and didn’t lose any­one, I see the fu­ture of Christchurch as very ex­cit­ing,” she said.

“And you can’t live in fear from the earth­quakes. If you do, where are you go­ing to go?

“We’re on a thin crust over a molten ball of lava. That’s called earth. It could hap­pen any­where.”

PHO­TOS: LETEA CA­VAN­DER

New Re­gent St, in the Christchurch cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict, shows no signs of dam­age from the 2011 earth­quake and has be­come a vi­brant meet­ing place for res­i­dents and the city's visi­tors.

◗ A build­ing in the Christchurch cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict.

Builder Vaughan Wil­liams, who lost his own home in the 2011 earth­quake, says con­struc­tion jobs are fi­nally start­ing to be­come avail­able to lo­cals, over­seas work­ers and visi­tors.

◗A lot of con­struc­tion is tak­ing place in the Christchurch cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict.

PHOTO: LETEA CA­VAN­DER

The tem­po­rary me­mo­rial to the 185 peo­ple who died in the 2011 earth­quake, op­po­site the site of the CTV build­ing in Christchurch.

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