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An update on Christchurch: five days on


February 27, 2011/8.39

Kip Brook

Above A Papanui Road house in Merivale that survived the September 4, 2010 earthquake, but not the aftershock of February 22.

People are exhausted, but they keep going.
   They are covered in the liquefaction which dries white. There is no escaping it. Clean it off and it is back one out in the streets. Cars are filthy. I have a row of shoes at the door covered in white powdered liquefaction.
   Supermarkets are open but still unclean. The stuff spreads everywhere.
   Most of us don’t watch TV any more here, it’s too difficult and doesn’t help us cope. People from afar don’t see the full picture on TV.
   We are facing greater difficulties getting the city up and running. Few have jobs; few businesses are open outside the CBD. Many of the schools have suffered massive damage. Christchurch Girls’ High on the banks of the Avon, on the airport side of Hagley Park, is one of several schools that is severely shattered. Principals and teachers across the city have begun phoning around to match up enough teachers and pupils so they know when school can begin. But some teachers have partners, family or friends who are victims of February 22. And many schools are in too bad a shape to consider opening for a long time.
   So many roads are impassable or dangerous.
   It’s frightening to think that 36,000 people left the city by plane in the first three days; many people by car. Some who fled may return; others have no home, no job, no future to return to. You can’t blame families with young children. There’s nobody to blame over this and people respect how everyone reacts; except the tiny number of looters. We heard of one person was waiting near an ATM for someone to withdraw money then rush over and rip it off them and run.
   It’s where to start, with so many hurdles. My wife Chrissy and I could not leave Christchurch for a long time yet, with so much to do.
   Some things are returning to normal. Petrol stations and supermarkets are open. How can you tell a supermarket has been rocked heavily by an earthquake? The smell of wine inside.
   A fleet of big trucks, stacked containers, temporary fuel bins, diggers and equipment from mid-Canterbury have set up base in a local supermarket car park. They have begun scooping up the piles of liquefaction people have shovelled out of their properties and piled on the edges or shattered roads, which look like scenes out of Middle East warzones. The diggers can’t keep up. The sound of helicopters rattles the windows; the house shakes as the big trucks roll back and forth constantly removing rubble from the city close by. This is a city on a knife-edge.
   The birds and crickets have returned after some of our darkest days. Christchurch people are strong and resilient, at the moment. We talk to everyone and ask how they are and if they need a hand. Those that can live in a house, no matter how badly ruined, are the lucky ones. Many robust homes that survived September 4 are totally shattered by the force of February 22’s earthquake. The amount of fallen bricks, broken homes and city buildings seem 20 times greater than in September. Words of support and knowing people outside are concerned keeps us going.—Kip Brook, Word of Mouth Media NZ

Kip Brook is an occasional contributor to Lucire, and a London bureau chief correspondent.

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