Thursday, March 15, 2012

Christchurch - One Year Later

After a short flight and another shuttle ride, we got ourselves checked into our backpackers (NZ word for hostel). Before heading back out to explore the city and get groceries, we took time to scope out all of the interesting plants in the courtyard and admire the view from our room door.

When planning our trip, we originally thought we would take the ferry between islands and thus, not spend any time in Christchurch. However, when we found out the timing and costs would be much better if we flew between islands, we split our trip dates roughly in half and booked a flight.

When the earthquake happened last year, we heard the news. We knew that this quake had followed another quake that had happened about 6 months earlier. We had seen stories about both quakes and were aware that they had done damage to the city. We found that many of the places that were highlighted in our guidebook were no longer in existence or were in the process of reopening elsewhere. It was only as we were getting close to the trip and researching in greater detail that we connected the dates and figured out we would be arriving on the exact anniversary of the devastating earthquake .

While sitting at the gate in the Auckland airport, waiting for our flight to board, we watched the televised memorial event. It was apparent that this was a national tragedy that impacted and continues to impact a large part of the New Zealand population. Sitting there, at that moment, listening to the names of those who passed away in the earthquake and watching tearful strangers comfort each other, we could feel how big this event had been for our fellow humans who lost their loved ones, their homes, and their businesses that day.

At 12:51, the exact time the earthquake struck, the nation honored the anniversary with 2 minutes of silence. The airport had announced it ahead of time. When the time hit, an entire airport full of staff and travelers stopped everything and stood in silence for the full 2 minutes. Well, everyone except for the Asian couple talking in the back corner, completely clueless as to what was happening around them. I am hoping that was to be blamed on a language barrier and not lack of respect. It was a powerful thing to partake in and brings tears to my eyes now when I remember the energy of those two minutes. So, it was with an incongruous mix of excitement for our trip and heartache for the city we were travelling to that we boarded our flight to Christchurch.

A year later and the city center is still considered a "red zone". It is completely inaccessible to everyone but those working to demolish and/or rebuild what was the heart of the city.

Some of the buildings showed minor damage, while others were so damaged that I was baffled as to how one might go about putting it back together.

This giant building was being braced and stabilized, despite huge portions of it having fallen away. You can see into a top floor room on the left of this photo. Stacks of shipping containers filled with hay bales lined one side of this building to keep the walls from falling outwards. I have huge respect for the expertise of people who can figure out how to repair these historic buildings.

Many buildings were too far gone to be repaired, so they have been demolished, with little stacks of bricks or materials left behind on vacant lots. The buildings that are left standing all have spraypainted codes on the outside that warn of structural instability or clear the building for entry.

We noticed right away that there were flowers in the traffic cones. The cones were everywhere, blocking access points into the red zone and alerting people to problems in the roads or sidewalks. And, the flowers, they were everywhere, too. Citizens of a city in the process of rebuilding took it upon themselves to share a little beauty and love in the midst of fallen stones and cracked streets.

And, somehow, even for me, an outsider that had no personal loss associated with that day, the flowers meant something. I love to think of the many people who participated in that small action to show that they remember, that they care, that things will be brighter and that the city that appears nearly gone can come back and be vibrant again.

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