‘Waitangi dawn ceremony ended with a Maori elder prophesying the destruction of Wellington in a huge earthquake … “I’ve seen body bags lying in the streets of Wellington…I have seen the roof of the Beehive lying in the debris of the streets of Wellington.” ‘ Kerei Tia Toa recounts his 38 year old prophecy 6 Feb 2011*
I suppose the rather symmetrical date 22/2/11 should have provided a clue, but even 38 minutes warning would have been helpful this week as Christchurch people faced a second huge seismic test, after the more than 4,600 quakes experienced in the city since the first major Canterbury earthquake in early September last year, as the heart and soul of the Garden City was ripped out by the incredible power of nature.
I was at a Rotary lunch meeting at the venerable Canterbury Club three days ago when the 6.3 killer quake struck at 12.51pm on Tuesday (See the before and after satellite images below*).
Once we’d picked ourselves off the ground after the 40 second rollercoaster I was almost the last out onto the corner of Cambridge Tce and Worcester Boulevard as Rotarians formed an orderly queue to exit. The 7.1 4th September quake hit at 4.36 a.m. in the dark when we were in bed. Now we were in our best bib and tucker on public display, so no unseemly jostling here and certainly no panic, not at the Canterbury Club anyway.
I’d tried to phone my wife and daughter and Sue at my office on the way out without any luck. I jogged as fast as I could via the Boulevard and The Square back to our offices on the corner of Cambridge and Manchester taking some badly shot iPhone video as I went.
In the Square the dust was still rising from the fallen spire and the injured and dazed, apparently mainly visitors, huddled in small groups. There were ominous piles of mute rubble spread out on the North West side of the Cathedral.
Given the time of day it was obvious that more tourists would have been in the building and, as I heard later, up on the viewing platform just above where the spire first swayed, then buckled and finally snapped off like a discarded stone icecream cone, a sombre counterpoint to the controversial Chalice only 30 metres away.
More than 20 are still entombed in the Cathedral, which looks grievously, perhaps even terminally, damaged
[Another big aftershock as I type rattles the windows and shakes the house].
The Press Building was shattered. We’d had lunch just three days before with an old friend who works in the Press Mon-Wed. They were about to move out of the Square to their new office next week. It turned out that Myles was having his lunch break in the Square and saw the spire come down.
Gloucester Streets and New Regent Streets were like blitzed London as I walked down the middle of the road to avoid falling debris. In New Regent Street people were trapped, but at least at ground level, with passers-by helping them out.
As I approached the damaged Manchester St bridge I first thought that the second floor of our building Mancan House had come down, but it was just the perspective and the intervening rise at the bridge. Then as I drew nearer I could see that the PGG building near our offices on the other side of the road had almost totally collapsed. (See satellite image*)
Sue was safe with our next door business neighbours, but the water from burst mains was about to pour in over the front step of our offices. I got my laptop and bags and we shifted a PC off the floor out of reach of the water. We couldn’t get to our server-the room was blocked. The aquarium was tipped over in the lounge area. I doubt if the rising flood would have saved any goldfish.
In September there was hardly a sign of damage at work but quite a bit at home. This time it was the reverse, but I didn’t know that when I tried to get home, having had no response from Sylvia on the landline and cellphone.
I had to go North to get to the South West to our place at Kennedys Bush 13 ks away from the city centre. I couldn’t get across town to my daughter’s office/apartment in a 2nd level brick building near the Botanic Gardens, my first attempted port of call. Brick buildings have been quick to tumble and I was concerned about her. It turned out that she was at an Arts Centre café nearby and saw a structure disintegrate in front of her as much of the precinct was badly damaged.
I decided to head almost to the airport to get on the ring road back home. I gave an 80 year old couple who were walking to the airport without luggage a ride from the middle of Fendalton. It took an hour to get to Burnside High on Memorial Ave and from then on it was plainer sailing. Motorists were mainly better behaved than usual and where there were no lights were actually courteous. I saw only one large 4WD jump the queue and throw his vehicular weight around. Unfortunately, just when you wanted a large liquefaction sump to open up and swallow the vehicle, there was none immediately to be seen but plenty elsewhere.
People were walking home out of the CBD clutching bags and briefcases in scenes reminiscent of 11 Sept 2001. It will be a long time before many are able to return. This time it wasn’t the twin towers that were down-but the 3 tallest structures in the city were badly damaged, with the tallest, the 14 story Grand Chancellor Hotel on a Pisa-like lean looking set to fall at any time.
It was apocalyptic-one’s worst dream.
[Another really big aftershock –turns out to 4.4, epicenter only 5 kilometres away].
The 6.3 quake on Tues was near the same epicentre as the 5.1 quake 5 days after the big but bloodless 4th September Quake but hugely more destructive than both because it was so shallow and so close –about 10 kilometres from the city centre. $NZ6-6 billion damage initially-now total may be $NZ20-25 billlion.
I doubt if I’ll manage to get back into my offices. They’re once again well inside the expanded inner city no-go cordon. Even though the building is modern, it’s by the river. This time huge liquefaction has stuffed the foundations of many riverside buildings and caused the PGG building nearby to totally collapse with many fatalities.
The city will be like a doughnut for a generation -a series of villages huddled around the outside of a hollowed out centre. The flight to the suburbs caused by the building of malls pell mell could now be irreversible. Hopefully the Cathedral can be saved and rebuilt; it’s an important civic symbol. But much of the heritage and tourist fabric of the city has been rent asunder.
I doubt if we can host the Rugby World Cup in terms of venue and accommodation. That for some might be a disaster but, of course, the real disaster this time is the loss of life, including at least 60 foreign students and tourists. Several people I know are missing. I am one of the guilty and impotent survivors.
As we struggle to come to terms with this new disaster just when as a city we were in recovery mode from the September quake we all can take heart from the incredible outpouring of help and concern from people all around the country and all round the world,
Less helpful is the nutter website ”Christchurch Quake”*- registered on September 20 to an address in Utah in the USA -which suggests the destruction wreaked across the city was a result of ”lesbians running loose on the South Island as if they own the place”…
With a home address like that you do have to take its comments with several grains of salt. Among other incendiary accusations, the website alleges that the earlier September earthquake, which coincided with the start of Gay Ski Week in Queenstown, was a warning from God to ”End the Evil – or else!’. God’s geography was obviously a bit odd in this case; he was out by a long way.
The website now claims that the 4th September earthquake warning had not been heeded, leading to Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude earthquake, which has killed more than 100 people with more than 200 still missing. He’s also been a bit tougher on Christchurch churches this time, yet not all of them have women bishops. (See the satellite images of our two cathedrals, before and after*).
Kerei Tia Toa’s Waitangi Day recounting of his earlier vision of a great Wellington earthquake takes interprovincial rivalry and one-upmanship to a new seismic level. Watch that space.
In the meantime, Christchurch will be re-shaped and renewed as a low-rise city but it will take a generation and a renewed pioneering spirit.
PS Just before the second quake I returned an almost overdue book to the Central Library. I certainly saved myself a big fine: it will be months before we can get back into the central city. It was Jonathan Franzen’s 1992 novel Strong Motion and it was about a Boston seismologist and a series of unexpected earthquakes in an area previously thought safe from seismic shocks.
[Another large tremor to punctuate this blog. It would be nice if it was a full stop,]
Please add your quake comments below.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/infographics/christchurch-quake/beforeafter.htm Satellite images of the city before and after the 2nd quake
www.rotarysouthpacific.org Rotary Earthquake Appeal-please help
http://quake.crowe.co.nz/ Rt hand column shows exact location.