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Communication in Christchurch after the earthquakes

Dorothy - 17/06/2011

Most people in Christchurch would agree that more people have been communicating with each other since the earthquakes. This was noticeable after the earthquake on September 4 2010, and there has been a marked increase in conversations between strangers since the strong aftershocks on Monday, June 13, 2011.

Especially when people are feeling tense after a noticeable quake they really appreciate being able to talk to a stranger at the bus stop, waiting for pedestrian traffic lights to change, or in a supermarket queue. There is, however, little variety in the topics for conversation. Earthquake experiences have replaced the weather as the safe introduction to conversation.

These conversations have made me realise the wide range of experiences interrupted by the quakes. As these occurred in the early afternoon on a weekday the aftershock of 5.7 at 13.01 and of 6.30 at 14.20 on a Monday - many people were at their desks or their workbench or at home in the kitchen, most people at first clung to the bench or table and then when they could walk steadily went outside away from walls or chimneys which might collapse.

People's answers to the universal questions what were you doing when the sharp aftershock happened and was your house damaged? give a picture of how it is a matter of luck if the interruption is not dangerous.

One friend told me that the surgeon had just completed surgery on her hip and she had been transferred to recovery when the shaking began. The anaesthetic still meant that she had no sensation below her waist and could only lie still and hope that she would not be thrown out of bed.

One man was in a stone church which is now viewed as a dangerous place as so many stone churches have been seriously damaged. He was relieved to get out safely and then started work on clearing out the roof guttering on the brick lounge. When the second quake occurred he was on a ladder which swayed so much that he could only hold on to the guttering until calm was restored.

Another friend is dependent on a motorised chair for going outside her home. On the afternoon of June 13 she was in the Merivale Mall. Here the shaking was so violent that she was thrown to the ground. When two men came to her aid and said she must leave as she was under a glass ceiling she protested that she could not go without Katie. The men, not knowing that this was her name for her transport, started searching for a little girl. She got on Katie and was able to leave the Mall, but only after she rode through the large pool of liquefaction outside the entrance.

The answers to questions about damage to the house once again depend largely on the location of the property. The story of events in Christchurch has once again earned the title "A tale of two cities".

Those who live in the centre of the city or on the east side have had to cope with seriously damaged houses and gardens ruined by liquefaction. The inner city remains closed and business owners are forced to find temporary premises in the west. In the east some hillside homes in Redcliffs and Sumner have fallen down hillsides or been left perilously near the edge of cliffs. Many shopping areas and cafes have been unable to open.

Most homes in the northwest suburbs have suffered little damage and shopping centres and cafes are flourishing. Many people living in this area have been saying that they feel a sense of guilt about their good fortune when other people a short distance away are having to cope with such serious disruption.

These troubled times have produced an impressive community spirit. The Federated Farmers have taken the initiative in helping people clear silt and sand from eastern districts of Christchurch. These volunteers dubbed the 'Farmy Army' have been joined by students and other volunteers and removed many tonnes of silt from quake-hit homes in the New Brighton area. Rural women have produced hot appetising meals for the workers.

Today, June 19, the city has been free of serious quakes and we hope this is a forerunner of more peaceful days ahead and opportunities to repair this broken city.

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