– University of Canterbury, Ilam, Christchurch

Entries from my blog after the February earthquake:
Posted 22 February 2011, 3 pm
Another big earthquake
I’m ok, and made it home from work. No damage at home – just a couple of minor breakages again – but the centre of the city is a mess and they reckon there’s been multiple deaths.
Amazingly, we’ve still got power on in our suburb, but the phones are out, and I think we’ll be boiling water again.
This is horrific.

Posted 23 February 2011, 9 am
We’re evacuating
Not because we’re in any danger, but to try and relieve some of the pressure on water, sewerage etc. They’ve asked for anyone who has somewhere else they can go for a few days to do so, so Dad texted us and offered to come up and pick us up and take us down to Alexandra. So we’re packing a few clothes (and the cat!) and we’ll be heading away this afternoon.
I wish there was something practical to do to help, but as there’s not (I can’t even donate blood, because I’m a BSE risk), the next best thing I can do is help by not being here.
Got about 5 hours sleep last night in between the aftershocks. I can’t stop obsessively watching the news on TV and reading Stuff – probably not the healthiest thing to be doing, but just like in September, I’m trying to convince myself that this is really happening to my city.
Haven’t heard yet from Jenny or Philip, who gave me a lift home yesterday before heading out in search of their respective partners who they hadn’t been able to contact – one in Sumner, the other in Lyttelton, both badly affected areas. I know the lack of communication is probably just because they have no power or phones, but I really want to know Christian and Annie are ok.
Sorry this is so disjointed – I’ll try and write a proper account of yesterday once I settle down a bit.
(Update 11 am: Just heard from Jenny – she and Christian are ok. So glad to hear that. I’ve offered them the use of our house while we’re away if their place is unliveable.)

Posted 24 February 2011
Checking in
We’re down in Alexandra, and feeling much better after a good night’s sleep and a relaxing day. Thanks everyone for your kind thoughts and wishes – it really does help enormously to know that people are thinking of you.
I saw several flags flying at half mast around town today, and it was strangely affecting.

I’m guessing you’ve all seen the news coverage of what’s happening in Christchurch. So many deaths and horrific injuries, and so many people still trapped. I’ve heard (either directly or indirectly) from all my close friends and most of my workmates now, so know they’re ok, but I also know the chances are, in a city of only half a million, that all of us will end up knowing someone who is a victim. And probably everyone in our tiny country will know someone who’s lost someone – already I’ve heard that the owners of a shop near my brother’s have lost their son.
It’s still hard to get my head around the fact that what I’m seeing on TV is Christchurch. It may not be the city I was born in, but it’s the place I’ve lived longer than anywhere else in my nomadic life, and it definitely feels like home now. How could something like this happen to my town? Not only to be losing precious old buildings like we did in September, but for people to be dying under them. I keep thinking that the pictures on TV are from some foreign city, but then I recognise the buildings, and can work out exactly where the camera person must be standing to shoot the film – it’s all so familiar and yet so unreal.
I do feel a bit guilty having come down here, like I’m somehow letting down everyone who doesn’t have the chance to leave, by not staying put and sticking it out with them, but it really was the most sensible thing to do. We know from our experience in September how tough the first week is, with little sleep, restricted water supplies, not being able to flush the toilet or have a shower, and shortages in the supermarkets. By leaving we’re not only reducing the strain on the city’s services, but also giving ourselves time to rest and recover a bit of calm so when we do go back we’ll be more ready to maybe help out in some way.
I really will write a full account of what Tuesday was like, but not today.

Posted 1 March 2011
Back home
We’re back in Christchurch, and feeling much refreshed and ready to face whatever this city throws at us. Dad drove us up yesterday, with a car load of food, water, and camping gear – some for us, some for friends in need.

We got as far as Hornby without incident, but then hit the traffic. What would normally be a 10 minute drive from Hornby to our place took well over half an hour there was so much traffic on the by-pass, all crawling along. At our place we let the cat out and quickly unloaded our share of the food etc, then headed over to Ferrymead to meet Jenny (who lives in Sumner, so has been without power or water for a week, and unlikely to get either back soon). We’d originally been going to drive right out to Sumner, but she rang us to say they’d just closed the Sumner road because they’re worried more of Redcliffs might collapse, so the only route out was over the Summit Road, and they’re restricting that to residents. So we arranged to meet in Ferrymead, and told her we’d be there in half an hour or so. Yeah, we didn’t take the traffic into account. It was actually more like an hour and a quarter – lucky she was sensible enough to bring a book to read while she waited for us!
It was weird travelling out that way – there was no visible damage at all until we reached the corner of Brougham and Antigua streets, and then we started to see the odd crumbled wall or chimney. Then we started to see the silt from the liquefaction. We were travelling on major roads, which had already been cleared, but there were huge piles of silt along the sides of the road, and the smell was awful – obviously there was sewerage mixed in with the sand and mud. Everything is covered in grey dust now that the silt is starting to dry out and blow around (they’re advising that people with respiratory conditions wear masks – I reckon everyone should, given what’s in that dust!). All the streets leading off Brougham towards the city centre were cordoned off, with soldiers standing guard, and when you looked down the streets towards the city all you could see were huge clouds of dust, obviously being stirred up by the rescue/recovery efforts, and rubble lying across the roads. A sobering sight. As we got further east, the roads got worse. As it’s a major route they’ve filled in the major potholes with gravel, but the road surface was still all buckled, with weird humps and dips all along it. Really strange looking.
At Ferrymead we met Jenny, hugs were exchanged, and supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables and camping gear gratefully received (I’d rung her to get a shopping list while we were in Alexandra). She was looking pretty stressed, as they’re just living day to day waiting to hear if they’ll be the next street to be evacuated (I of course offered her our place as a refuge if that happens, or if they just can’t stand the strain of waiting any longer).
Next stop was in Bromley, where Dad’s friend Graham works. He owns a construction firm, so we met him in their yard. Outside was an enormous pile of silt cleared from their yard (about the size of the piles of gravel you see when they’re constructing a road), and he showed us the corners of the yard where they still haven’t cleared all the silt – it was nearly half a metre deep. We had more fruit for him (we’d stopped at an orchard in Cromwell on the way up), and some equipment he needed.
As we were standing in the yard talking, an aftershock struck. It was only a tiny one, just a single jolt, but incredibly strong. It felt like the ground dropped away beneath us. I leapt about a mile in the air, and grabbed onto the nearest solid object (Dad’s arm :-)). Later when I checked GeoNet I found out that it had been small, only 3.3, but it was only 2 km deep, and centred just about directly under where we were standing – no wonder it felt so scary!

A few minor aftershocks last night, but nothing dramatic, so it’s feeling surreally back to normal here now. But I just have to think back to what we saw yesterday (and remember that was only the very edge of the damage) to bring back to mind just how bad things really are. I’ve been trying to think of things I can do to help out – we’ve put our name down to billet a student if needed, and I think I’ll probably do some baking later and take it to one of the aid centres.

Posted 2 March 2011

we have postal services again!!! We got our first delivery yesterday, a week after the earthquake.
We also had a visitor yesterday – someone from Search and Rescue knocked on the door (don’t worry, I checked his ID!) asking if we needed any help. They said on the news the other day that they’d be going round houses checking everyone was ok, but I assumed they only meant in the badly affected suburbs. But no, they’re doing the entire city!
I did promise a description of the earthquake, didn’t I? Seeing as it’s now 8 days later, I suppose I should do that now, before I forget the details (not that I think I will – I’m sure that day will stay with me for a long time!).
The morning was a pretty ordinary one. The students had only started back the day before, so I’d spent most of it answering questions and directing lost first-years. Normally on a day like that I would have escaped at lunchtime to make sure I got a proper break, but it was drizzling, so I decided to eat lunch at my desk and put up with the interruptions.
I hadn’t quite finished eating when the shaking started – I’d seen a couple of students in the corridor coming towards my office, so I’d turned away from my lunch to see what they needed. As soon as the earthquake started, I knew it was going to be a big one. Normally when there’s an aftershock you don’t react for a few seconds as you wait to see if it’s going to get big or not, but with this one it was big right from the start. It felt different than the September one – more of an up and down movement, whereas September was side to side. The best way I’ve been able to describe it is as being like when you were a kid and you’d sit on a trampoline while someone else was bouncing, and you’d be thrown around uncontrollably.
I immediately tried to get under my desk, but I was being thrown around so much it was difficult. I kept bumping my head on the bottom of the desk as I bounced up and down, and must have hit my arm as well (though I didn’t notice it at the time), because I ended up with a huge bruise. The noise was unbelievable – as well as the low-frequency rumble from the ground, there were all sorts of creaks and moans from the building, and the sound of things falling down everywhere. I could see things flying off the shelves opposite me, and I worried about the two students, because where they’d been standing out in the reception area there was nothing to shelter under.
I’ve got no idea how long the shaking lasted (it always feels much longer than it actually is!), but when it stopped I crawled back out from under the desk and saw the students huddled together beside the reception area’s couch, arms covering their heads and thankfully unharmed. The building was still standing, but it was a mess though – all the ceiling tiles had come down in the corridor again, and the hanging sign outside my office had broken and was hanging by only one chain. I didn’t have much time to look around though, because it was obvious we’d have to evacuate.
A few people have said that the September earthquake actually turned out to be a good thing, and it’s true, because our experiences then taught us so much. One thing the university learnt is that our evacuation procedures, designed for fire, wouldn’t work in an earthquake, because all the evacuation points were too close to buildings, so anyone standing there would be endangered by falling glass (or even buildings). Over the summer the Health and Safety team had been redesigning the procedures, and only a couple of weeks ago I’d been to a training session where they told us our new evacuation points (in the centre of large carparks or playing fields well away from any buildings), and what the procedures would be once we got there. During the training, someone asked how we’d know if we needed to evacuate after an aftershock, and the trainer basically said “if it happens, you’ll know”.
She was right – we all knew there was no way we were staying in the building, so we headed for the stairs. I remembered to grab my bag as I left (otherwise I’d have been without such essentials as my phone and my wallet), and glanced around my desk wondering if there was anything else I needed to take. I must have been in shock, because instead of picking up something sensible like my keys, my diary (otherwise known as my lifeline – it contains absolutely everything I need to know), my water bottle, or even the book I was reading, the one thing I picked up was my mp3 player. Yeah, really essential survival equipment there Jennifer!
As we left, we were knocking on office doors to make sure nobody was trapped inside. One person was trapped – his books had fallen off the bookshelves (which are secured to the wall) and landed in front of his door so he couldn’t pull it open. But my boss and one of the postgrads put their shoulders to it and managed to force it open to let him out.
There’s supposed to be emergency lighting in the buildings that comes on when the power goes out, but for some reason it wasn’t working, so the stairwell was very dark. We got to the bottom ok though, and started directing the confused looking students who were milling around to the new evacuation point. I’d been doubtful when we were told about the evacuation plans, whether it really would be possible to get 12,000 students and staff to safety. But from what I saw of our area of campus it worked really well (and I later heard that there were no serious injuries anywhere on campus) – those of us who remembered the new procedures directed those who didn’t, and we basically herded everyone out to the carpark, picking up strays as we went along.
The only part of the plan that failed was that our carpark didn’t have a warden. They’d been asking for volunteers the week before, and ours was the last evacuation point that still hadn’t had someone appointed. So we all milled around for a while waiting for someone official to tell us what to do next. Everyone had their cell phones out, of course, desperately trying to contact family, but the network was obviously overloaded, because no calls were getting through. At first we didn’t realise how bad it had been, and were joking about how come the aftershock couldn’t have waited for a nicer day (it was still drizzling), but then texts started to get through and word started to spread about how bad it was in town. H texted me pretty quickly to let me know he was ok, which was a huge relief. A lot of people had left their phones in their offices, so those of us who did have them were sharing them around.
The first big aftershock to the aftershock hit while we were standing in the carpark – a 5.7, which is bigger than any of the aftershocks to the original earthquake. It was a huge jolt, and all of us grabbed hold of the nearest person (whether we knew them or not :-)). I ended up in a group hug with a few of the women from the college office. The cars in the carpark were bouncing around madly, totally lifting off the ground – really scary!
Eventually someone from security arrived, and told us they were shutting down the campus, and that we should all go home. There were a few people upset that they couldn’t go back into the buildings and retrieve their belongings first (especially people who’d left their car keys behind!), but security weren’t taking any chances on another aftershock hitting, so turned them away.
I contemplated walking home, but I was still feeling pretty shaky, and wasn’t too keen on being on my own for the 40-odd minutes it would take to walk. So when I heard Phil offering Jenny a lift home, I asked if he’d mind dropping me off too. They were both concerned about their partners, Phil’s wife being at home in Lyttelton, and Jenny’s husband on his way from Sumner by bike, without a phone. I gave Phil my phone to keep trying his wife as we drove, but there was nothing I could do to help Jenny other than try and reassure her.
The traffic was horrendous, with everyone trying to get home or to their children’s schools, so it took nearly an hour to reach my place. It would have been faster for me to walk! Everyone was being very good though – there was no road rage, and nobody was trying to overtake or block cars joining the road, but just patiently crawling along, happy just to be moving at all.
When we got home H was watching the news on TV (amazingly, we didn’t lose power at all this time) – it was such a shock to see what was happening in town, when this side of the city looked completely normal. I gave Phil H’s phone (as parents etc who’d be wanting to check on us would be more likely to call mine) so he could keep trying his wife, and found a jersey for Jenny (who was going into shock and shivering uncontrollably), and made sure they had water, then they headed out again to try and reach Lyttelton or Sumner.
(I heard from Jenny a couple of days later that Sumner was completely cut off, but they’d managed to get over Dyer’s Pass to Lyttelton, then Jenny borrowed a pair of gym shoes off Phil’s wife and walked over the hill to Sumner (note for non-Christchurch people, this is a serious hike, that takes a few hours on a good day). A couple of people were killed by falling rocks trying to do the same thing, so she was incredibly lucky to make it.)
The rest of the afternoon we were glued to the TV. Outside, the traffic jam in our street (which is a major route out of town) continued until well into the evening, and there was a constant sound of sirens in the distance and helicopters overhead. There were a few big aftershocks through the afternoon, but nothing too scary, and amazingly we once again escaped any damage – I think the only casualty this time was one wine glass.
So, that was February 22nd, a date that will I think be engraved in every Cantabrian’s mind for ever.

Posted 16 March 2011
Life continues to be strange. The horrifying pictures from Japan make our earthquake seem so minor, which in a way is reassuring – it could have been so much worse – but also kind of scary – it could have been so much worse!
Just as after September, now that the initial drama has died down, what’s left is mostly tiredness and depression. Life is just hard work – everything seems to take twice as long as it did before the earthquake, and is much more complicated. Even something as simple as going shopping is complicated – for a start you have to allow twice as much time as normal to get there, because the buses aren’t really running to a regular timetable yet, so you pretty much have to guess when one will arrive and just go to the bus stop and hope for the best (so far the longest I’ve had to wait is about half an hour – good thing I had a book!) At least the buses are free at the moment, which makes the waiting much more bearable :-)
Travelling by car isn’t much better, because the traffic is still pretty awful (people aren’t exactly heeding the constant calls to limit car use or at least carpool), so it takes forever to get anywhere. And in large parts of the city the roads are in really bad condition, which slows the traffic down even more. I went over to Hillsborough (which is deep in the heart of portaloo country) the other day with a colleague for a meeting, and it took us about an hour to get there from Ilam, partly because of the traffic, but also because the roads are all warped and cracked, so we had to keep slowing down to avoid potholes and negotiate the bumps.
That sort of thing is getting on everyone’s nerves, and everyone’s getting a bit scratchy and irritable (I saw two cars driving side by side down Riccarton Road the other day with the drivers having a shouting match through their open windows). But then you look at what’s happening in Japan, and our little problems and inconveniences seem so trivial in comparison, which of course then makes you feel guilty for not coping better, which makes you feel even worse.
Ok, this is turning into some sort of pity fest, which isn’t at all what I set out to write! It’s really not all bad – there’s still all the good stuff like people banding together as communities and looking after each other, and all sorts of incredible acts of generosity.
I’ve been back at work this week – well, sort of. Our building still hasn’t been cleared by the engineers, so we’ve been allocated a single office (for our whole department!) in one of the few campus buildings that has been certified safe. Our new office has only got three desks and one working computer, so we’re practising what the managers are calling “hotdesking” (i.e. what normal people would call “sharing”) and doing a lot of working from home. I’ve been going in for a few hours a day (mainly to deal with student enquiries), and otherwise trying to get as much work as I can done from home (the wonders of the internet age – I can log in remotely to the university’s servers from anywhere and access all my files and things), which has its advantages and disadvantages (and many distractions!).
We were allowed to go back into our building briefly today to grab any essential records and teaching materials. Because the building is possibly unsafe (it looks ok, but some of the other buildings they’ve inspected turned out to have hidden structural damage, so they’re not taking any chances), we were only allowed to go in a few people at a time, escorted by a search and rescue team. And we had to wear hard hats and hi-vis vests – never thought I’d be wearing those to work!!! We were only allowed about 5 minutes in our offices to grab as much as we could carry (we’d all sensibly come equipped with suitcases and backpacks :-)), then we were taken back outside. My office wasn’t in as bad a state as I thought it might be – a lot of stuff on the floor, and I think my potplants are done for, but at least all of the furniture stayed upright this time. The cracks in the internal (non structural) walls that still hadn’t been repaired from September look even more impressive now – one was the whole width of the room! (No photos, sorry – I didn’t have time, being too busy trying to grab everything I could think of that we might need over the next few weeks).
Some people were feeling really anxious about going back into the building, but I wasn’t too worried – or at least, I thought I wasn’t, but it obviously had more of an effect than I thought, because I realised a few hours later that I was feeling utterly exhausted.
We’ve got no idea when (or if!) we’ll be allowed to go back in – it depends on what the engineers find when they start looking closely at the supporting beams and stuff. I’m hoping that by the time I get back from America it will be all sorted out and we’ll be allowed to move back in. In the meantime, we’ll just have to cope with camping out in our tiny office (at least we’re not literally camping out like some departments, which are having to work out of tents!)
It does feel good to be back at work at last, though. It feels like life is at least slowly starting to get back to normal – or what the VC keeps calling “a new kind of normal”.

Posted 16 March 2011
I’m back!
The engineers signed off on our building on Friday afternoon, so I came in on Saturday and picked up everything off the floor and gave my office a good cleaning (with 11 weeks of accumulated dust plus a coating of plaster fragments for every aftershock it really needed it!), so I’m now sitting happily at my own computer at my own desk in my own office and actually able to get on with some work. Life is good :-)
The walls are still full of cracks, waiting for the plasterers and painters to get round to our building (they’ve got a lot of work to do all over the campus, so it could be a few months before they reach us), but they’re not in structural walls, so who cares about the cosmetics – at least we’re back where we belong.
I’ve optimistically righted all my fallen potplants and given them a good drink, but I’ll be amazed if they actually revive this time.
Right, time to get back to work!

Posted 14 June 2011
Still alive
Another couple of big aftershocks yesterday – a 5.5 and a 6.0. Big enough that we evacuated our building at work after the first one (the 5.5), though there wasn’t much real damage that I could see – just the usual ceiling panels down and a bit more plaster falling off the walls. Still, it’s good to know management take these things seriously enough that they want to have an engineering check before we’re allowed back in.
After the first one, once they announced they were closing the campus for the rest of the day (and today as well, as it turned out, so another unexpected day off), I walked home. I thought about taking the bus, but the traffic had already got so heavy with people trying to get home or to schools to pick up their kids that it was approaching gridlock, so walking seemed the faster option.
I spotted some real damage on the way home: (photo http://www.hamipiks.com/showPic.php/128913/130611earthquake.JPG)
This block of shops has been closed since the February earthquake when its roof was damaged, but the big hole in the side is new (as you can tell by the rubble on the footpath). It’s amazing nobody got hit by it, because although that stretch of footpath was originally cordoned off, the cordons had been moved (probably by people who’d found it too inconvenient to have to cross to the other side of the road right beside a busy intersection), so I’ve often seen people walking along that bit.
I got home, where H told me of his adventures (he’d just left the supermarket, and was about to get on the bus, when the bus suddenly started bouncing up and down). And then the shaking started again, and got bigger and bigger and just kept on going. We could hear things crashing down all over the house – it actually sounded worse than the September one.
Thankfully, once the shaking stopped (or at least settled down to a low rumble – it didn’t really properly stop all afternoon) we discovered that we’d once again somehow got away without damage. Most of the crashing sounds had come from the pile of CDs H had stacked on top of the CD player in the kitchen, which went flying across the room (we’re still finding CDs in odd places, but so far none broken). The laptop fell over, but fell on a soft surface so wasn’t damaged, and the medicine cabinet came open in the bathroom so its contents were distributed across the floor and sink, but again no breakages.
So apart from a bit more wear and tear to our nerves (we’re getting little aftershocks to the aftershocks every couple of hours, the biggest so far a 4.something), we’re ok.

Posted 24 July 2011
Being brave, and books in a fridge
It’s been a while since I posted, I know. As in September and February, the June 13 aftershocks hit me harder emotionally than I expected, and combined with the chaos they created at work (where we were just about to start exams, so had to very quickly put a whole load of alternative assessments in place, and then deal with a flood of aegrotat (consideration for impaired performance) applications) I just haven’t had any mental energy left for the last month or so.
However, I’m slowly coming right again, so thought it was about time to dive back in to blogging.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve actually ventured in to town a couple of times. Not right into the CBD of course, which is still behind the cordons, but when Dad came up a few weeks ago and suggested a drive around the edge of the red zone I realised I hadn’t really been any further than Riccarton since February (partly because of a reluctance to go further from home than I could walk back from, in case there’s another big shake and I get stuck somewhere without transport, and partly just because with the CBD closed there’s really nothing to go anywhere for).
That first look at the red zone from the car was a shock – I actually felt quite ill when I saw the damage. Yes, I’d seen it all on TV over and over again, but to actually see it in person made much more of an impact. It was so depressing to hardly recognise the streets we were looking down, and to see how many building had been pulled down already, and how many more were obviously damaged beyond repair.
Then a few days later Jenny invited me out to her place in Sumner for dinner. I was a bit reluctant at first, as the buses are still impossible if you want to get from one side of town to the other, but she suggested that she or her husband could come and pick me up, and then take me home again afterwards. So I went out there and had a great evening with them and a few other friends, and made it back safely without the cliffs falling on me.
On the way out, Jenny took me via Lyttelton, and that was possibly more shocking than the red zone, because there haven’t been as many pictures in the paper and on TV as of Christchurch. There hasn’t been as much damage to houses out there (because they’re mostly single-story and wooden, and there hasn’t been the liquefaction that’s plagued the eastern suburbs), but the town centre is pretty much gone. We turned into London Street (the main street), and for a moment I thought Jenny must have taken a wrong turning, because I didn’t recognise the street at all, so many buildings are gone. Eventually I spotted the supermarket at one end and the library at the other, but in between there’s more gaps than buildings.
Sumner itself didn’t look too bad, although there were a lot of obviously damaged buildings, and a few gaps where demolitions have already been finished, but the cliffs are completely different. We walked along the beach and looking back at the cliffs you could see they were quite noticeably further back from the beach than they used to be (the several houses teetering on the edge were a good clue, too). There’s still raw sewerage flowing into the sea in several places, so the beach was lined with signs warning people not to go in the water and avoid touching the sand.
But weirdly, it was good for me going out there. It was so good to see normal life carrying on among the damage, despite the fact the roads are still cracked and buckled (and this is after they’ve already had a lot of repair work done to them – as Jenny’s husband pointed out, you can tell by the size of the potholes that they haven’t bothered to repair how bad the ones they did repair were), and there’s still no sewerage (streets are lined with portaloos), and every house has some sort of damage (Jenny mentioned how lucky they were because they’d found a builder to take the brick cladding off their house and temporarily replace it with plywood sheeting, so their only damage in June was a few broken windows). Having a dinner party felt like such a wonderfully normal thing to be doing.
So last weekend I decided to be brave and go to the launch of the Gapfiller book exchange, even though getting there would mean I’d have to walk around the edge of the red zone cordon.
I walked right up to the cordon in a few different places, and everywhere was the same – a small group of people peering through the fence, and an almost reverential hush. Even though technically we were all sightseers, the atmosphere wasn’t like sight-seeing so much as paying homage to the broken city – everyone was talking in whispers and obviously trying to be discrete about taking photos.
One of the weird things was looking into the windows businesses that had just been abandoned on February 22, and other than having broken windows boarded up, were pretty much exactly as they’d been left that day. Toppled over display stands, now covered with a thick layer of dust from the silt that’s still covering so much of the city. That really added to the feeling of walking through a ghost town.
Another strange thing was the lack of graffiti. You’d think with all those blank walls where buildings had been demolished, and with so few people around, the taggers would have been out in force. But there was hardly any.
Residential streets are lined with portaloos, one every two or three houses. Apparently there’s a world-wide shortage of portaloos at the moment, Christchurch is using so many of them.
There’s almost no traffic, and what cars there are are going slowly, because the roads are so bad, and because so much of the footpaths are blocked off that pedestrians are forced to walk on the road. And somehow quiet in a place you’d expect to be noisy and bustling like a city centre is so much more quiet than ordinary quiet – it was quite eerie.
The other really noticeable thing was the smell. The first odour you notice is the dust, which is everywhere. But underneath that there’s a hint of decay, of restaurants that still have food rotting in their kitchens, of rubbish uncollected for months. It’s not strong, but it’s definitely there, like being downwind from a rubbish dump.
But despite that, walking around the cordon actually made me feel better about Christchurch. Maybe it was just because it was a nice day, with the sun shining and a hint of spring in the air, but it was also because although the damage is horrendous, and so many buildings have been demolished, there’s still a lot more standing than you’d think from what you see on the news. And with so much of the demolition completed there’s a feeling that something new and exciting could spring up out of all those empty spaces.
Gapfiller are helping with that feeling, too. Their launch was great – I arrived a bit early, so helped them set up, filling the fridge with books. Sarah, the organiser, had a laptop set up so she could register the books coming in, and by the time I left a couple of hours later there was quite a crowd around her waiting to donate books, while others were selecting books from the fridge, sitting in the sun reading, talking books, and generally enjoying the day. It felt like being in an open-air library, and a great sense of community.
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