Posted by: Tommy | August 19, 2011

Christchurch – a look at the aftermath

On Feb. 22, 2011, downtown Christchurch, New Zealand was hit with a devastating 6.3 earthquake.  4 months later, on June 12, 2 more major aftershocks hit the city, further devastating an already-beaten down region.  On August 5, we spent less than 24 hours in Christchurch.  Despite the short period of time, walking the city and seeing the destruction, even several months later, was very sad but also very interesting

We were initially planning to spend several days in Christchurch (it was a beautiful city, apparently, before the quakes) but our plans changed when the earthquakes hit, as they did for many tourists.  It’s the same catch-22 that New Orleans faced for so long after Katrina – tourism money is needed to rebuild, but until the rebuilding happens no tourists want to go there.  Two facts learned during our time made us feel good about our decision to leave so quickly – 1) all the downtown restaurants remain closed, so it was a $40 cab ride to dinner and 2) Christchurch has had 3,064 earthquakes since Feb. 22, most of them minor but has rarely gone a full day without a tremor of some kind.

Jerry, Sally and Jack had a flight 3 hours before Anna and I, so they took a quick walk around the downtown before we arrived.  When Anna and I got there, her ankle was aching so she stayed in the room with her folks.  Jack and I took my camera and went out to look around, spending almost 2 hours exploring the largely-fenced off area. Here are some photos that may give you an idea of being in Christchurch right now:

This used to be a hotel.

You can see where a building stood. The building next door suffered minor damage - mostly losing part of the wall it shared with this building. Walking around town, you'd see office buildings with a few broken windows beside a pile of rubble.

A typical scene, and the most interesting of these photos. A closed sushi restaurant, with spray-painted markings noting it's awaiting demolition. Like most things in the heart of Christchurch, it's closed. In the reflection, you can see the Caterpillars waiting to tear it down.

According to our taxi driver, the earthquake opened massive holes like this one all over the Christchurch roads. So much soil came from these holes that sand dunes formed in the streets, burying cars and making roads impassable.

When seen from this angle, this large cathedral is in pretty good shape compared to other buildings around it. Yes, the steeple is removed, but other than that the damage appears minor.

But when viewed from the front, you can see that the entire front of the church is in ruins. One of the saddest parts of our walk was the number of beautiful, historic buildings in ruins.

Like some businesses, this one is proud to be open. Unfortunately, most of the area is closed because of the extreme danger.


Jack and I came upon a building being demolished. Most of the work being done in Christchurch is demolition - many of the buildings are unstable and have to be razed before being rebuilt. This is the beginning of a long process. Here, we caught a shot of the wrecking ball bouncing off of the wall, with a cloud of dust exploding after the impact.


After the wrecking ball had the building ready to come down, they brought in this weird pusher-machine to finish the job. Thanks to the high-speed function on my camera, we caught the building on its way down.

I can’t say that we enjoyed our time in Christchurch – it’s still too early for the tourist infrastructure to be back – but it was educational.  Just like Katrina, the Japan tsunami and other natural disasters that occur on an epic scale, the work to rebuild will go on long after the attention of the world has moved on.


  1. Even trying to find a place to have dinner at night was a challenge. We finally found a pub not far outside the CBD that was fun but crowded. Our cab driver said we were the first Americans he had driven in months. Really sad.

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