In February of 2011 the city of Christchurch was struck by a devastating earthquake. Their experience is a cautionary tale for those of us living in the San Francisco area. A magnitude 7.1 quake had hit in 2010, causing relatively little damage. The 2011 quake was smaller in magnitude, but the frequency of the shock waves was much higher, resulting in far greater damage. Over 8,000 buildings in the downtown area were red-tagged.
The sheer volume of rubble is difficult to comprehend. The debris in Christchurch was twenty times the city’s annual rubbish volume. Five years on, the rubble is largely cleaned up, but large sections of the city are empty lots, buildings everywhere are condemned and still waiting for demolition, and major landmarks are damaged beyond repair.
The rebuilding is now well underway, with several fascinating examples of turning lemons into lemonade. Cranes and the sounds of construction fill the air. The cathedral has been replaced, at least temporarily, with the “Cardboard Cathedral”, a structure supported by giant cardboard columns as you can see below. It has an airy, beautiful feel to it and is expected to last at least 50 years.
For weeks after the quake the downtown area was off-limits to all but emergency personnel. Retail space was non-existent, so Re: START was created. This is an open-air mall created with shipping containers. Stores are located in re-purposed containers, and public art displays fill the area.
The city is well on its way back. The recovery continues. But for those of us living in earthquake country, it’s a reminder to create a proper disaster kit and to be prepared to be self-sufficient when the time comes.