I didn’t even get to write my blog about the damage seen in our visit to Christchurch before the next earthquake has devastated New Zealand. Kaikoura and the surrounding area is one of the most beautiful areas that I have ever experienced and hope for the best for everyone impacted. (aerial photos from 10/28/2014: Flight over Kaikoura)
My first career was in urban planning and my second is in emergency services, so visiting Christchurch was fascinating from a clinical standpoint. Two years ago, we were advised not to go to Christchurch because of the damage; “there was nothing to see.” When we visited in October, I was disappointed that I had missed seeing city center on the last trip because I would have liked to see the recovery process over time. Today, I am glad we didn’t spend time there because we were in Kaikoura and who nows when that area will recover.
I’ve seen lots of areas burning or recently burned by the wildfires in California. Within a year, the scars of some of those fires are gone and they are on fire again. I began my second career on a fire near the Indians (10/19/2015: Hiking “The Indians”). The scars? An occasional snag or cat-faced oak. I was in lower Manhattan the week after 9/11 and have returned every 3-4 years since. Still vivid in my memory are the store front mannequins covered white plaster dust, the impromptu memorials of flowers along chain link fences accompanying hand made signs for the missing, and the debris fields towering over 100′ fire department aerial master streams at Ground Zero. The recovery? On a physical level near complete. Changed but vibrant again. On a personal level it will never be forgotten. New Orleans shocked me the most with whole districts abandoned. Areas the size of small towns just left to rot. Each is an interesting case study in damage, response, and recovery.
Christchurch was a reminder of the frailty of our cultural world. Five years after the earthquake, buildings are abandoned, shored, or demolished. In fact, whole blocks of buildings are not used. However, it’s an odd mix because so many other areas full of life. Outside the city center, you could pass through the city and not see any signs of the earthquake (did it 3 times). In fact, as we walked down a residential street, our first experience was what looked like a church steeple sitting on the ground with no building to hold it up. It caught us off guard because everything else seemed so normal (The next day, we found out that we hadn’t noticed our first experience with the rebuilding because a skin had been built around an old church to protect it’s historical interior). A walk through the city center was an interesting mix of damage and recovery. Most city blocks were completely normal, then you would have to detour because of construction (but what city isn’t full of construction). You are always crossing the street because of closed sidewalks or walking through the tunnel of scaffolding . Christchurch was different though because the next block would have a complete skyscraper, empty. No signs of life except graffiti and broken windows. The next block…like nothing had ever happened.
I was disappointed to read that they want to tear down the Christchurch Cathedral but, in light of this week’s news and the long list of damage caused by earthquakes, I understand. The list of cultural icons that I have seen that are now damaged or destroyed keeps growing though. It’s a constant reminder of time and it makes me want to travel more lest I miss anything else.