Personal Account of the Christchurch, NZ recovery

Christchurch, NZ experienced two major earthquakes in Sept. of 2010 and in Feb. of 2011  as well as thousands of aftershocks since then. Details of the many quakes are here. Here is a personal account of the recovery from an experienced U.S. disaster professional who was visiting in Christchurch this past month. She shared her observations with the Diva, but prefers to remain anonymous.
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Christchurch was very interesting, but heartbreaking. From what I heard from talking to residents and even tourists from England, most are disappointed in the Recovery. Some say it’s too slow, some want it back how it was, and others say there is a shortage of construction workers, as Australia pays more, and NZ cost of living makes it hard to live there.

From speaking to people on the street, they become tearful of what used to be. They don’t like the “big glass boxes” that are replacing the damaged buildings.

I did go by the Office of Emergency Management, and spoke with one of the Team Leads and one who is in charge of “welfare”, but of course, not the meaning we use for welfare. They’d like that terminology changed. They can’t rebuild the old stone and cement buildings, no matter how beautiful they were. I’m sure you know this, but they said they didn’t even know there was a fault or the liquefaction in the geology of the area.

Emergency Management is trying to make it a “happier place”. They have built a temporary shopping area in the City Centre out of train containers, where there is not only shopping, but events and concerts.

The Museum offers bus tours of the damage, and there is something called “Quake City”, I suppose a simulation and information on what it is like to have experienced the earthquake. I did not take the tours, nor go to the display. I saw enough damage just driving through. I suppose I’m a little odd in that I don’t take pictures of disasters. Somehow it feels intrusive.

Their biggest project now is infrastructure. The whole sewer system needs to be replaced before much building can continue. Roads in the city are a mess. I got the feeling at the temporary building of the Office of Emergency Management of frustration. However, their priorities seem to be  for social and crisis issues, and infrastructure. That may be because that is whom I spoke with.  They work with the different Ministries, probably as we do with our Recovery Support Functions.

I was surprised, no validation of who I was, no security guards, offered a cup of tea and a chair to sit and chat. What a different culture! We discussed the differences in our countries. Their law enforcement doesn’t even carry guns, and need permission to use them. No school shootings, very little violence, but of course, worries about the instability of the island, earthquakes, tsunami’s, and volcanoes. 

I didn’t see anything about the Mayor-Elect at all. In fact, I didn’t see much about politics. What a relief that has been.

 I’m sure you know more than I, but it was an interesting first hand experience. If there is anything else I can answer for you, or I think of something, I will pass it on. Did I tell you they loved our expression “The new normal”, and are going to use it?  Funny, how things get started.

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2 Responses to Personal Account of the Christchurch, NZ recovery

  1. Tom Phelan says:

    Claire, the post is heart-felt, but lacks understanding of the recovery process following a devastating earthquake. Infrastructure is re-built from the bottom up. With liquefaction under the surface, this may be a very long process. There’s no sense repairing road surfaces if the subterranean systems of sewer, water and electric power have not been restored. When I visited Christchurch in 2011, I was very impressed by the five-year plan for restoration and the resiliency of the people, especially in emergency services. As for questionable recovery activities, you can still take a bus tour of the 9th Ward in New Orleans to see the devastation of Katrina – 9 years later. Did you happen to ask how much international aid is provided to New Zealand to allow construction workers to be on site?
    Restoration is a matter of financial resources. Recall the repair of the stonework on the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. following the most recent and rare earthquake there. As I recall, restoration of the stonework may take ten years.
    The emergency services personnel and residents of New Zealand should be applauded for continuing recovery work in spite of other serious disastrous storms and aftershocks since the 2010 Christchurch earthquake.

  2. Laura Olson says:

    What a lovely account – thank you so much for finding someone to share it. There is something very universal and compelling about this account of how people internalize the loss that is such a big part of the recovery experience. I very much enjoyed reading this post.

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