Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christchurch in Dec 2011 ~ earthquake safety measures, empty sections and gradual progress

When I visited Christchurch last week I found it an odd mixture of an increasing number of empty sections and flourishing plant life.  The image below of a massive tree by the entrance of a now empty section illustrates this point.  Until very recently a grand old wooden house stood within the grounds:

Another massive tree lives on in the back of the section.  The only house that remains is the elaborate tree house constructed within its boughs:

Next door, a similar but smaller house survives in good condition and a well tended garden basks in the summer warmth:

Safety standards and earthquakes:
I often hear complaints about the conservative nature of safety standards, with the opinion being aired that many are too strict or may be unnecessary.  I think that on the whole they are eminently sensible and in the case of the Christchurch earthquakes a cautious approach has certainly saved many lives. 

But how can an earthquake save lives?
Prior to the deadly earthquake of February 2011 Christchurch had an uncomfortable wake-up call - the earthquake of September 2010.  That major quake caused extensive damage all over Canterbury, but the epicentre was some distance to the west of the city and it occurred at a time of night when few people were up and about.  Miraculously no one was killed.  As a result buildings across the city were inspected for damage and stability.  Unreinforced masonry buildings presented a major hazard and many were condemned.  Others buildings were closed until repairs could be carried out, and adjacent areas were cordoned off.  This meant that these areas were not occupied when the much more devastating quake struck in the middle of a busy weekday, directly under the central city.  
  • September's quake 'saved 300 lives' - article in The Press, 7th November 2011.  The writer of the article notes that "Unreinforced masonry is a construction of clay brick, concrete block or natural stone units bound together using lime or cement mortar, without any reinforcing elements such as steel reinforcing bars."
However, mistakes and policy errors do occur with the result that information about unstable building structures did not always reach those it should have.  The item below describes how information which was withheld caused the death of two women: they were crushed by the collapse of an unbraced brick wall from a neighbouring building.  EQC has now changed its policy about the availability of information to those of neighbouring properties.
I reflected on all this when visiting Christchurch last week, and considered the places I was familiar with where friends and professionals I knew well had lived and worked, which have since been razed:

Photo Warehouse used to be on this site on Durham Street in an old brick building which I often visited.  The February earthquake struck at the busiest time of the day.  Fortunately the business had moved some months before the September earthquake. (Their new premises is on Fitzgerald Avenue.)

A good friend used to live in the old brick building that was on this site in Selwyn Street.  Fortunately he had too had moved before the quakes:

Our much loved family optometrist, Paul Dunlop, died in the building pictured below, the Durham Street Methodist Church, which collapsed in the February earthquake.  The church had been damaged in the September quake and he and seven others were in there dismantling the organ for removal when the quake struck.  Five of them got out; three of them did not.

Opposite my mother's place the old brick house which was there is now gone.  It was one of the earliest houses built in that suburb.  The elderly couple who had lived there for decades mercifully were no longer there:

The Redcliffs supermarket where I used to shop is now an empty section.  In the image below you can see it fenced off, deemed too dangerous even to enter to collect anything.  My guess is that it is likely to have been of concrete slab construction:

Now only the shop sign remains:

Redcliffs took a heavy pounding in the third big earthquake event, on the 13th June 2011:
The sewer is being re-laid along the centre of the main street meaning that traffic is diverted to one side of the road along much of its length.  That's Clifton Hill in the background:

Apart from extensive road works and continuing demolitions progress there is slow.  Redcliffs Primary School, which is adjacent to the cliffs and resulting rockfalls, is closed:

A close-up of the cliff edge above shows how perilous the cliff face has become:

Looking back along Redcliffs Main Road towards the Causeway little has changed in recent months:

In central Christchurch the streets are increasingly empty of buildings: 
This view into the cordoned off area from the Barbadoes and Tuam Street intersection shows some of the high-rises that remain.  An obliging service station attendant identified which ones are coming down.  All but a couple of these are scheduled for demolition:

I asked if the building overshadowed by the crane was under construction or de-construction.  It's the Grand Chancellor Hotel - without its distinguishing and somewhat hat-like roof.  The question of how to manage its demolition has been a continuing theme in news coverage since the February earthquake. 

Its tilting structure and awkward location make its demolition one of the most difficult and expensive known anywhere.

In Christchurch brick chimneys have largely become a thing of the past although some mock-brick chimney pieces have been designed.  Unless special strengthening is included in construction they have been deemed hazardous as a falling chimney can cause extensive damage.  One man was very nearly killed by one:   

Earthquake nearly fatal for Oxford farmer - published in Star newspaper, 14th Sept 2010.
The man standing in this chimney space was putting in a shiny metal one which appeared the next day.

Away from damaged buildings, vacant sections and the bustle of road repairs areas of the city basked in summer sunlight and were a delight.  
A friend and I wandered across Beckenham Park...

...and along Eastern Terrace:

Here is the view to the south of dear old Sugarloaf, the hill in the distance:

Grass and toetoe at the left flank the banks of the Heathcote River.

The following day I set out from Christchurch on the long drive home.  
It was raining and cold: the weather, like aspects of the city, was a stark contrast.  I pulled over from traffic on Bealey Ave to photograph the equally stark remains of Knox Church.  I was distracted by rain and traffic, but am reasonably sure that the big signs in the foreground are for the church hall just out of the picture to the left.

Beyond the shell of the church a new building is under construction:

The bright stripe at the right is the back of the bus in front of my car.

Visible progress in Christchurch is slow, but continuing:
People's plan approved for Christchurch - TVNZ video, 15th December 2011
Christchurch courthouse reopens - TVNZ video, 15th December 2011

Right now nature looks to be the clear winner, and for a city long known as The Garden City, this is hopeful and reassuring.  In this respect locals need all they can get: the jumble of disappearing landmarks, construction, deconstruction, detours, bumpy or closed roads, and relocated shops and services, continue to be a strain.  Newly built or repaired and revamped buildings are coming along slowly.  Meantime, kia kaha, Christchurch, and may the summer bring you all relaxation, pleasure and a clear view of better things to come.

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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