Aug 12, 2018
On September 4, 2010 at 4:35am, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand. It was followed by 98 aftershocks that day and thousands in the weeks and months to follow. In spite of its magnitude, no one was killed, and many historic buildings and churches remained intact.
Just five months later on February 22, 2011 at 12:51pm in the middle of lunch hour, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch again. This time, 185 people died and hundreds of historic structures crumbled, including the Christchurch Cathedral. The city’s sewer system was disrupted, water was unavailable, and many tall buildings were dangerously leaning and continued to collapse as the aftershocks struck one after another for weeks.
It has been 7.5 years since that devastation, and the rebuilding is still ongoing. I walked through downtown to see the regrowth.
According to the informational attraction, Quake City, the soil around the Avon River, which wends its way through the city, underwent liquefaction, causing horizontal spreading of the top surface and bubbling up of sand through the vents created. This split roads, shifted the river, and consumed houses and buildings as if they were on quicksand.
In order to safely rebuild, engineers are inserting pillars into the soil to reinforce the foundation. This is time consuming, but will help prevent this kind of catastrophe in the future.
Everywhere I looked, there were signs of progress. Steel girders and frames support brick buildings, the Cathedral is surrounded by a fence and is returning to its former glory, and new structures are being built everywhere. The streetcar trolley has reopened and gives tourists a narrated tour of the rebuilding process, passing by an amazing inverted cone sculpture called the Chalice that stands at least 75 feet tall. It was built by Neil Dawson in 2001 to celebrate Christchurch’s 150th anniversary, and it was undamaged by the earthquakes. Nearby, there are brand new buildings clad in colored glass, and new arenas and facilities are underway, too.
Overall, the feel here is one of hope. The classic charm is being preserved, and the city is being revitalized with modern architecture and beauty, too. If you come to New Zealand, I hope you’ll include Christchurch on your visit and be part of the rebirth celebration happening here.