“Cut people a bit of slack today. There will be grumpy people, we all express our stress in different ways. Some laugh and get silly and that can offend someone else who is feeling really depressed and sad….We’ve got to keep working together, we’ve got to hang in there as a city.”
– Bob Parker, Mayor of Christchurch, 24 Feb 2011
On many occasions regular readers would have read my mentions of the earthquakes that have stormed my city of Christchurch, New Zealand since September 2010. These quakes have changed life as we know it for the approximate 450,000 residents plus those in surrounding rural areas. I live two kilometres from the centre of the city and right on the edge of the worst affected parts. We are now very much in recovery and rebuild mode, although the quakes continue to rattle us on regular occasions
Here’s some facts:
- The biggest 7.1 quake which struck on September 4, 2010 at 4.35am Miraculously no one was killed, probably because it happened so early on Saturday morning. It was quite a way to wake up!
- The 6.3 quake which hit at 12:51pm on February 22, 2011 caused severe damage and resulted in the loss of 185 lives. My elderly parents lost their inner city home and walked away on that day with nothing but the clothes they wore.
- 10,847 quakes have occurred since that first one on 4 September 2010 (there have already been four small ones today as I write so the number is always going up).
- No one knew that there was seismic activity under, or around Christchurch, so the quakes came as a complete surprise. There are now known to be at least two fault lines. One, the Greendale fault is about 30 kilometres to the southwest of the city. There is also at least one but thought to be several fault lines also on the Port Hills surrounding Christchurch (starting about 8km and south east of the city centre) and another just off the coast line (about 15-20km from the city centre).
I acknowledge the New Zealand GeoNet project and its sponsors
EQC, GNS Science and LINZ, for providing data/images used in this post.
The quakes in the last 60 days (as shown above) have been shallow, as have all the quakes across the entire time. That is most quakes have been less than 30km’s deep and many have been only 5-10km. The deadly quake on 22 February 2012 was only 5km deep and centred on 6.2km from the city centre.
There have been just under 460,000 claims to the Earthquake Commission which handles residential claims for damages, two of which are mine. One for contents and one for land and property damage. So far most contents claims have been settled but only about 15,000 home repairs have been completed.
80 percent of the buildings in the central business district, at the centre of the city, have been or are in the process of being demolished because the damage to them is too bad to rebuild.
And there lies the problem. I have been advised along with many others that our homes will hopefully be repaired sometime in the next four years (remember we’re already 18 months into this process). In cases of major work (like mine) the owners are required to move out of their homes while the repairs take place. So now the city has an enormous problem with housing.
Already over 5,000 homeowners have been told they can not return to their properties because the land damage is too great. I am fortunate to not be in this area, although the area runs from only eight houses down the road from my home. I am very relieved that my land has been classed as undamaged (although the building damage is severe).
There simply isn’t enough housing to go around, and while there is a dash to open up new subdivisions it just can’t come quick enough. As it is, people are living in garages, caravans (trailers) and even cars. Personally I have no idea where I will go when my turn comes. I’ll face that when it comes. It’s one thing it’s not worth worrying about for now.
There are a few things about this who situation that really make me angry. The authorities are completing minor repairs first. That way, they get them done and can say “look at all the homes we’ve repaired” when in reality all the major damage hasn’t yet been touched. It looks better on their books because it looks like they have done so much. The thing is that it is possible to live with minor repairs but people who have had to find alternative accomodation are still waiting. I suspect on this basis that it will be the full four years before my house gets looked at. There are some serious issues that will need to be solved before they start on repairs and it’s simply in the ‘too hard basket’.
I can live with it though. My heating is significantly impaired because of damage but as I recently said the Red Cross have thankfully agreed to help me with me heating bills over winter. My floors are on a slope, the porches have separated from the house, the windows and doors don’t open/close, the foundations have slipped, there are many cracks in the walls (inside and out) and the outside cladding is really just sitting there. If it is touched it will fall off. But like I said, I can live with it. It’s not so easy for my neighbours who are expecting their first child next month and are missing one whole side of their house. It simply collapsed. The wall is patched with thin plywood. It doesn’t keep any of the cold out, nor is it keeping rats and mice out.
A few weeks ago I was visting my mother when she had a visit from the earthquake assessors. They were planning to repair her apartment before the end of this year. The thing is there really is no damage. It took a third lot of assessors to even notice that there are a few tiny, superficial cracks in the joins between the walls and the ceiling. I’m quite sure my mother can’t even see it and it’s certainly not affecting her life. Yet they plan to fix and repaint the whole place. In reality it could really wait until she moves out, but this is the craziness that is living after 10,000+ quakes. And I should add that my guess she will have to move out while this is done, so guess who will end up with a house guest again.
Yesterday I got more angry when I read in the news that The Canterbury Club (founded in 1872, as a exclusive club for business and professional men) was re-opening this weekend after their earthquake repairs were completed at a cost of around NZ$4 million. I think it’s lovely for these men that they have their building repaired so quickly, and admittedly it was an historic building so it is good to see one restored rather than demolished. But why does that get priority over people needing homes? I just don’t get it.
Shall I go on? One of the controversies in the city is the demolition of the Anglican Cathedral, a building that was about the same age as the Canterbury Club. It has been an icon, and unfortunately it is now an icon of the earthquakes. Tourists to the city were regulars to visit the impressive building. The damage has been extreme and there are arguments still going on as to whether it should be demolished or saved. The Anglican Church plan to build a ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ as a temporary replacement. It’s meant to bring hope and excitment to us residents.
I still think hope and excitment would happen if we had homes to live in, repairs completed and businesses re-established in the city, thereby boosting employment and the economy. I know I’m not an economist (my brother is, but I don’t think that rubs off on me) but surely people and jobs are important than exclusive clubrooms and churches. Yet they, and I might add the more wealthy areas of the city get priority.
But then maybe it’s just me. I don’t get why all of this is okay. Why it is accepted? I do know one thing though and that is that the residents of this area are tired of living this way and while there are some great people out their fighting for the rights of the people, I think it just comes to a point where it is all too much. Just the bare basics have been a priority for so long now, let alone being able to get decent sleep (without quakes or anxiety).
There are many people here with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorders and Depression now diagnosed and that really doesn’t surprise me. Many people who never expected to need mental health assistance now need it. For me personally, my Dad died as a result of the stress of these quakes. He had lost his home, his possessions, his church (which completely collapsed in that February 2011 quake), a neighbour died in the quake and with the constant quakes and turmoil of the unknown it was simply too much for him. All of that in a matter of about 50 seconds. I don’t know the statistics but I know of a number of other elderly people who died around the same time, and I can only guess that stress on top of perhaps already failing health caused this.
An interesting point to note is that it was reported that the suicide rate in Christchurch went down after the big quakes. It was accepted that the drop was because people were too busy focusing on the material basics of getting through each day to think about how they were feeling or that they wanted to act on suicidal ideation. I can believe this because I didn’t have a opportunity to think about how I felt. I knew I was stressed, I knew I was upset but finding where to get water or food actually was much more important. I think I was just on automatic pilot. Also there was a strong emphasis of looking out for your neighbours, so people weren’t just left isolated. People really did this a lot.
The concerning aspect of this is that the suicide rate is expected to go back up again this year, and I can totally believe it. People aren’t getting what the need, they aren’t being heard, the future looks bleak and no one knows yet whether we’re through the worst of the quakes or not.
There has been a push to provide free counselling for people, but I’m not convinced this will be enough when people don’t have homes or jobs. For me Dad’s death, the damage to my home, to my brother’s farm and just to life as we knew it has meant I have spent many hours with my therapist trying to deal with it all.
Unfortunately therapy doesn’t fix inequity and injustice. But hey, we now have a lovely gentlemen’s club again and will have a cardboard Cathedral, so perhaps we’re just meant to be grateful. Actually it just leaves me more angry than anything.
“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily. “So it is.” “And freezing.” “Is it?” “Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
– A.A. Milne
NB. This is exactly how we Christchurch residents think now days.
- All Senses Engaged… Water (Passions Profile Challenge #8) (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- One Year On (quakestories.govt.nz)
- Geonet (geonet.org.nz)
- Canterbury Quake Live (canterburyquakelive.co.nz)
- Canterbury Earthquakes ( canterbury.eqc.govt.nz)
- Reopening of Canty Club celebrated (stuff.co.nz)
- Cardboard cathedral planned for quake-hit Christchurch (guardian.co.uk)
- Suicide rates stay steady despite quake anxieties (stuff.co.nz)
- Quake zone ‘cohesion’ cuts suicide rate (nzherald.co.nz)
- Christchurch Earthquake: The Brilliance Of Bob Parker (blogspot.co.nz)
- Researchers find New Zealand more seismically unstable than previously thought (theextinctionprotocol.wordpress.com)