Earthquake Report: 28 September
On Friday I said that: “I know I “should” do another Earthquake Report update—but quite honestly, mostly I’d rather not even talk about it. Just getting through it day-to-day can be tough enough.”
But when I looked back through the Earthquake Reports folder (under Categories in the far right hand sidebar), I realised that it really had been quite a while since I had given you all a proper update. And although the focus of the world has moved on—and quite rightly, because otherwise we would all be living in a state of vicarious trauma and nothing would ever get done—here the year of earthquakes is still very much the dominant shaper of Christchurch life.
Firstly, although the 5 distinct earthquake events were September 4, January 26, February 22, April 16 and June 13, there have now been over 8500 recorded quakes since September 4 2010—and yes, they are still going on, with earthquakes most days and the most recent “swarm” of activity occurring last Saturday 24. So we’re still being kept on our toes—and stastically, there could still be another big one. (May I say how much I hope that there isn’t?!)
As I indicated on September 14—with the photos that accompanied the “peek inside” Neil Gaiman’s Inventing Aladdin, from the Tales for Canterbury anthology—the ongoing demolition of buildings continues, so that a zigzag through the central city—significant parts of which are still cordoned off—shows large areas of cleared ground where there used to be a thriving central area. Sadder still are those buildings yet to come down, like several hotels in the central area where you can see expanses of broken windows with torn curtains flapping through them. Mournful stuff, as are the slumped and twisted homes in areas around the river, with the banks on each side either twisted up or completely collapsed into what was once the bed of the waterway.
So much completely gone: homes, businesses, churches, halls, sports centres, and of course people—with whole neighbourhoods largely abandoned in places, most obvious at night when you can drive through streets of dark, empty houses. A great many people have already left, both for other parts of New Zealand and Australia; every day you hear of others still weighing up their options.
Significant areas of the city have also now been zoned “red,” meaning that the land condition is considered incapable of remediation and so both homes and lands are being “written off,” placing large numbers of residents in the situation of having to find other places to live. (There are complications around fair recompense for the written off properties, too, of course, plus market values shooting up in the areas that have survived the earthquakes better.)
On a more positive note, as well as demolition, everywhere you look there’s also repair and rebuilding, chiefly of roads, sewer and stormwater, and other vital public infrastructure. Buildings will generally be slower to come back: many owners are still waiting on insurance money and private investors will likely be wary until there is more surety that the earthquake activity has really died down. And not surprisingly, it’s incredibly difficult to get new insurance right now!
What else is positive? Well, it’s spring: everywhere you look, amidst and around the ruin, there is blossom, bulbs flowering, and a sense of life springing up again—of continuance. It reminds me, in an indirect way, of the rooster in JRR Tolkien’s The Return of the King, at the end of the seige of Minas Tirith—how the bird senses the dawn coming above the darkness of sorcery and prolonged battle, and crows, “wreaking nothing of wizardry and war.” So, too, with the spring here—it wreaks nothing of earthquakes and destruction of the built environment, but pushes up again, and on, regardless.
I think we will do the same—are already starting to, if not quite with the same verve and elan as spring! The world will right itself, but in the meantime there is still loss—a great deal of it for some people—and a long way to go, the work of years not months and one that will also be influenced by outside forces, such as what is happening in the world economy right now. Serious thoughts indeed, but not without that touch of brightness: the clump of daffodils by the roadside; the arch of blossom across a pale spring sky.