On Thursday I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand after 30 hours of flying.  I arrived in the airport and found it completely under construction and when my cousin's mother in law picked me up I was informed that it was being rebuilt after the numerous earthquakes and she did not even recognize it.  Christchurch is home to 350,000 people who live between a seaside, beautiful mountains, and amazing landscape.  Members of this city have the privledge of going to the beach, hiking the hills and cliffs, and then going skiing all in one day.  It is a beautiful, magical place.  Unfortunately members of this city also know what it is like to live through major earthquake after earthquake and watch their beautiful city crumble around them.  The first earthquake struck in Sept. 2010.  It was a major earthquake that caused some damage but most structures and spirits were not badly damaged or destroyed just shaken.  Aftershocks shook the region but it wasn't until Feb. of 2011 when the people of Christchurch experienced horror so unimaginable that they were shook to their core.  On Feb. 22 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch and caused severe damage killed and injured many of the people living in the area.  This earthquake was all over the news and people all over the world watched in horror as people in Christchurch were lifted out of the rubble and as building came down all around the people of the city.  I remember watching it and being so scared for Maegan and Mark.   The coverage of the earthquake was extensive in America for a little while.  Once the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan all coverage of New Zealand stopped in America, but in New Zealand the aftershocks continued and people continued to search for their loved ones.  The people of Christchurch worked hard to clean up their homes and find new places to live or planned memorials for family or friends that did not make it.  All in all, in Christchurch this earthquake caused unimaginable pain to the landscape and the people both physically and emotionally.  

Christchurch was on my travel plan prior to the earthquake and I continued the journey after the earthquake to visit my cousin Maegan and her husband Mark.  Traveling around the last three days I have learned much about the people dealing with the trama of natural disasters.  To the visitor the city looks as if it is all under construction.  But to a resident, the city is a constant reminder of how unsafe things can be.  You can be traveling down a street and see houses boarded up next to empty lots or piles of bricks.  The entire downtown city is boarded up and not accessable to anyone.  All major roads have some sort of construction going on and tons of potholes.  If looking at the tall building still standing in town you see the tops of domes on cathedrals that are missing most of the dome and some toppled floors or blown out windows.  The sides of cliffs have shipping containers stacked up to protect the drivers in case of another earthquake.  The buses have all been rerouted and there are empty lots everywhere that used to house major structures.  We drove by one building that they were trying to save by stacking shipping containers along one side.  Another building they were trying to keep upright by filling the entire first few floors with cement to hold it down.  

The physical changes to the environment I was prepared for.  I figured multiple major earthquakes would knock down a large number of things but it was the emotional impact to the people I was not sure how to react to.  When talking to people here they always talk about where they were and how they are doing.  Half of the population has houses that are not livable but many have no where to go.  Most people are struggling because business they owned are no longer in safe locations and many businesses have been moved out of town to new locations.  When going to the store Maegan informed me that she always parks on top of the parking garages in case of another earthquake.  She said she would not want to be crushed in between the layers of the garage.  When driving along a seaside road that was stacked with railroad shipping contianers Mark discussed how uncomfortable he was driving along them and how now he is always planning an exit strategy for every situation he is uncomfortable about.  When talking to Mark's mom she informed me that at her house she has put sticky tack under all her glass decorations so they don't fall over and break.  The first day Maegan explained to me what to do in case of a major earthquake and how I can use her phone to call home if I am scared because I won't be able to reach her or Mark if it is serious.  Hearing stories about how Mark and his friends waited days to here if their friend Sam made it out of one of the most collapsed buildings is so heartwretching.  I watched a 60 minutes episode of some of the worlds most talented big burly rugby players talking about the earthquake and I could see how visiably scared they looked.  We visited a seaside town of Sumner and went to this cave that is on the seashore.  Mark informed me that as a kid he always walked in the cave but that now he was not going anywhere near it and he would prefer me to also not go to close to it just in case the earth shook.   This earthquake has changed the way the people here think and live their life.  Everyone is constantly looking for exit strategies just in case and every single member of the 350,000 person city has been some how affected by the situation.  Many people are looking to leave the city due to the anxiety the constant shaking of  the ground has caused.  City developers predict that it could take up to 20 years to clean up and rebuild the city after these devistating earthquakes, but I think that this event will be with the people for their entire lifetime. 

While I am here visiting, Mark and Mae are preparing to return to America.  They are trying to sell everything they own and preparing to leave.  Many of Mark's friends are sad about it but also have said to him that if they didn't have kids and a mortgage they would be leaving too.  So slowly one of the worlds most beautiful and most environmentally diverse areas is slowly clearing out.  Mark's mom is worried that some of the elder members of Christchurch will never see the city restored.  This experience has definately made me appreciate the fact that I have yet to experience a natural disaster.  It has also opened my eyes to another struggle people face in a different part of the world that we in America are naive too and how the need to feel safe and comfortable is so important.  I cannot imagine being a child and trying to go to school with the constant worry that the ceiling might collapse on you, or not wanting to take a job because it is on the fifth floor of a ten story building.  The Christchurch residents have amazing perserverence and although they have encountered major challenges this last year, they are still wonderful friendly people who love life.

This week I will be hanging around Christchurch a bit more and then next week Mae and I are going to take a trip to the Northern part of the Southern Island of New Zealand.  We are going to visit the seals and some of the seaside towns.  We may also visit some of the major wine making areas of  New Zealand.  It is winter here so things are a bit chilly but I am looking forward to the idea of doing a bike tour through the wineries.  Below is a video of Sumner, a seaside town we visited, and some pictures I took of the earthquake affects.

Video of Sumner, New Zealand- Click Here

Courtney Heisler
7/15/2011 04:34:55 am

seeing your video made me miss you!!


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