Monday, 2 May 2011

Christchurch ~ two months after the big quake ~ demolitions, cliff collapses, shipping containers and portaloos

MULTIPLE INFORMATION LINKS CAN BE FOUND AT THE FOOT OF THIS ARTICLE ~
The latest new links were added on 20th May 2011 ~

I grew up in Christchurch and although I've lived away from it for most of my adult life my response to the earthquakes made it plain that it is still my place.  I was surprised at the waves of intense emotion that welled up: waves of tears, distress and concern. I needed to see what had happened for myself.

At Easter I was able to drive there for the first time.  I was pleased to be with family and friends, and also to take it all in first hand.

The city certainly is battered and many bits are damaged or missing but it's still there, and large parts of it seem reasonably intact.  Mind you, many apparently intact exteriors are very unsound indeed. 

My main focus was the Redcliffs and Sumner area as these are the areas most familiar to me.  Both have been badly affected.  Most of Christchurch is 'on the flat', as we say; this part of Christchurch is nestled next to or on hills and their cliffs. 

Heading to Sumner from town I found that the Heathcote bridge is now open to all traffic.  Its surface is fairly uneven but it works; the road around the foot of Mt Pleasant and across the Causeway likewise.  From the areas of shingle fill and asphalt patching it's obvious that an immense amount of work has already been done to get it to this point.  Proper re-grading and sealing will have to wait who knows how long.

I drove around the Redcliffs waterfront.  The sea wall has subsided and the road is very uneven, but the view was worth it: below you can see the view across the Estuary to the spit of South New Brighton and the remains of Shag Rock.  On the right you can see the sharp bluff of Clifton Hill, and behind it the steep cliffs of Whitewash Head.  The tide was middling, neither high nor low.  Look how low-lying the spit is!


I turned back onto the main road. Here is the Redcliffs supermarket:


If it didn't have a high mesh fence around it you could drive past and see nothing amiss.  In fact it has been declared so dangerous that no one is allowed back in even to collect possessions.  It's scheduled for demolition.


Such decisions are not taken lightly: aftershocks continue and their effect on already weakened structures can be catastrophic.  A tragic example of this may be the collapse of the CTV building: it seems possible that underlying structural damage from the September earthquake may not have been identified.  The collapse resulted in about half of the city's earthquake fatalities.  Broadcaster Mike Yardley, who worked in the building, remarked that prior to that the response of the building to subsequent shaking had seemed to become noisier as time passed.  That building was less that fifty years old.  In another tragic instance my dear optometrist Paul Dunlop, was in the already damaged Durham Street Methodist Church when the big quake struck.  He was with a group of men working to dismantle and remove the organ: five of them got out, and three of them didn't.  He didn't.  I've seen footage of that church on television and the quake reduced it to little more than a heap of tumbled masonry.  I was comforted to read that everything that could be done was done.  It's heartbreaking.  No one expected there to be another major shake after the big one in September last year.

Those who know Redcliffs and Sumner will be very aware of substantial rock falls.  The danger of continued crumbling has made it necessary for a considerable number of households to evacuate.  Here are the cliffs behind Redcliffs school, which is now closed:


In the photograph below you can see the loose rock debris above the roof-line of the school building. The cliff is some distance behind the building, but these rockfalls have come very close to the back of the school grounds as you can see in the aerial photos featured in this link to a GeoNet PDF



Heading on around to Sumner the road passes a reserve called Peacock's Gallop.  This greened area stretches along the foot of impressive cliffs which form one side of the hillside suburb of Clifton.

On the left is what remains of Shag Rock:


On the right is the wonderful cliff face.  Stacked containers guard against possible rock falls:


The view below looks back towards Redcliffs which can be seen in the background. 


Here is a wider view of the cliff from the Sumner end.  Fallen rubble has mounded up to just above the tree tops.  Note the houses along the top of the precipice!


At the far end the bare rock is clearly considered more stable as there are no barricades. I love this rock face: it looks like a great pot of stone porridge which as been vertically stirred!  It's volcanic of course.


Each time I drove along there I reminded myself that the likelihood of rock falling exactly at the time I was passing below was slight!  However, I wasn't lingering - they do come down as you can see from the big ones sitting just on the verge in the lower half-right of the image:


Approaching the Sumner shopping centre I found that road closed to southbound traffic and detoured via Stoke Street.  Sun slanting along the Wakefield Avenue cliffs showing in sharp relief where the rock face had sheared off.  Since that photo was taken a lot more rock has come down.


Looping back along Wakefield Avenue towards the shopping centre I stopped to look at this building site which appears to be closed.  Anyone for a townhouse?

Just a few yards further on we came to the now famous rock which fell onto one of the RSA buildings.  After Shag Rock this must be the most photographed rock in Christchurch.  While we were there with our cameras two other people also photographed it.  Mercifully, no one was in the building with that one came down, completely crushing it.

  


Access to the shopping centre from the southern end was via the right side of the road around big barricades.  Once in the shopping centre I stopped to walk around.  Here you can see a car coming along Wakefield Street as we had on quite the wrong side of the road.  It's part of the diversion.  The barricade of containers is to guard against possible collapse of the old brick community centre before it's demolished.  Note the barricade continues in front of the library which is threatened by unstable buildings on either side.   The post office opposite is open for business along with a few other shops, but the pharmacy at the end has had to move. 


Turning where I stood, I took this photograph, which shows what is left of 'The Ruptured Duck'.  Now it's really ruptured!  The bakery you can see is open, and the Hollywood theatre just beyond the demolition site is still operating.


The Sumner shopping centre is an interesting representation of the eastern portion of Christchurch: parts of it work but lots of it doesn't. 

Other than the battered shopping centre and the still-eroding cliffs Sumner appears much as it has done.  Roads are in relatively good condition and damage to homes is not all that obvious to the passer-by, but for those who live there the adjustment of what's still there and what's not is constant and stressful.

Perhaps most emblematic of Christchurch in its present state is not so much the crumbling cliffs, or even the increasing number of demolition sites and empty sections, but the humble portaloos which abound, dotting the verges in many parts of the city.  Parts of the city's formerly enviable sewerage system and treatment works are functional, but it is expected to be years before its fully restored.  Links below lead to articles which provide more detailed information.


I did tour some other parts of the city to see how these had fared.  I'm fortunate to have a car sturdy enough to handle the uneven surfaces without difficulty.   

I drove along Gayhurst Road which traverses the suburb of Dallington.  I found the road full of humps, hollows and hazards, dotted with orange 'witches hats' and fenced diversions.  The shops at the intersection of Woodham Road are a tumbled mess.  The far side of the bridge where it crosses the Avon would require a handbrake start from the far side.  I was glad to head back to more even surfaces closer to town.  

Salisbury Street was open, and so was Barbadoes Street, but all roads from there into the city centre were closed and manned by police and army personnel.  Much of the city's high rise looks likely to be demolished.  Many of the old stone heritage buildings dating back to the 18 and 1900s sustained major damage and will also be levelled.  One of Fitzgerald Avenue's north-bound lanes where it passes opposite the Avon Loop is impassable due to subsidence and has been barricaded off.  Travel in that direction is still possible along the reduced road area.  Travel around the central city area tends to be congested due to multiple road closures, diversions and obstacles.  

At the end of my visit as I turned the car homeward I made a last minute decision to visit the street we moved out of when we left Christchurch some years ago.  To get there I drove down Pages Road towards New Brighton.  The road surface became increasingly rough as I got nearer the Avon River and I started to wish I hadn't ventured in that direction.  Road works were everywhere.  I cautiously crossed the bridge and turned west along the far bank.  Although it was clear that a huge amount of work has already been done it was not a place I would choose to drive again for a while.  Bower Ave was a little better.  This took me to Parklands, a fairly recent subdivision of smart houses with high price tags.

I had seen our 'old' street on television shortly after the quake - under water from burst water mains and silt-blocked drains.  The road surface had previously been immaculately smooth and even.  Here is what it looked like at the weekend:


The house we had lived in looked much as it did but it's hard to tell from the outside. It was built on a solid concrete pad, which is how most houses seem to be built these days, and which have proved to be so vulnerable to damage in the recent earthquakes.

From there I drove back through Shirley, a working class suburb, which is where we had lived before that. That charming little house which stood on the banks of a stream had barely been visible from the road even then, and is now completely obscured by trees.  I approve of the trees but am left wondering about the house.  Parts of that road were entirely whole, but the end where we lived was besieged by road workers and their machinery. The neighbouring street was closed to through traffic and the houses there mostly seemed deserted.  In socio-economic terms Parklands and Shirley are miles apart but both suffered major damage.  Earthquakes and liquefaction did not make economic distinctions.

I headed west to more stable territory.  Even in Fendalton which suffered far less damage I noticed corner stores closed due to damage.  From there is was out through Hornby and onto the motorway south.  It had been an eventful visit.  

Although I was saddened to see such loss, it was also a relief to see it for myself, to have a context for what I'd heard and what I'd seen on television.  The rebuild will take years and the new city will be very different to the one we have known and loved.  Meanwhile, life goes on, aftershocks continue, and with them, fractures accrue in buildings and the cliffs.  Despite these, steps both small and large continue in the direction of a newer, more robust Christchurch.

RELATED ARTICLES AND SITES:
"We are seeing improvements to the operation of the Christchurch Treatment Plant. As of Friday 15 April we had six oxidation tanks in operation, compared to the previous Friday when we had 2 ½ tanks in operation."
SEARCH AND RESCUE WORKERS ACKNOWLEDGED: 
We were all tremendously heartened and continue to be grateful for the practical and tireless support provided by Search and Rescue personnel, both our own as well as those who poured in from overseas:
CIVILIAN VOLUNTEERS EFFORTS ACKNOWLEDGED: 
Both locals and other New Zealanders poured their all into the relief effort on a scale which seems to me to be unprecedented in this country demonstrating a staggering level of goodwill and practicality.  Look what we can do when we pull together!  Amazing!  
THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY'S RESPONSE:
"... could have moved before, but it might be the first time it ruptured in the last 100 million years,"
"I've been virtually told by [ACC minister] Dr Nick Smith and Sir Peter Gluckman [the prime minister's scientific advisor] that I'm not qualified to put statements out about earthquakes. They will have me legally if I do that."
I'm pleased to hear it - we have enough to worry about without the needless distress caused by these alarums!
    All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

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