Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Return To Ground Zero

Kai Ora, or "hello / welcome" in the Native Maori tongue. My return to the South Island has been bittersweet for the last 24 hours.  The excitement and anticipation of returning to Christchurch, it's people and heading further south to Antarctica is countered by the reality that only  just over 8 months ago, devastation rocked this city to rubble.  That devastation is eerily evident throughout the city.

First let's start off on a positive note, my B&B is great!
The Charlotte Jane
Wisteria on the back patio
A beautiful little home just outside the heart of downtown and a wonderful city park, Hagley Park.
The Avon River

Trailside along the Avon

As I wandered through the park, I worked my way along the Avon River which meanders through downtown.  Normally a vibrant walk full of people, but as I walked closer and closer towards the central business district here, the scene was different.  A line of fencing surrounds a 6 mile circumference of the city, preventing access to the once bustling city streets.  Now the skyline is full of cranes and buildings in various states of demolition.
A church in ruins along the Avon River
Windows missing or boarded up following the quake
Note the "not so right" building leaning in the background is the Grand Chancellor Hotel. It is scheduled to be leveled  this week.
A look over the fence line.  Piles of rubble represent the remnants of the economy as they try to rebuild.
Cranes and construction equipment are the only things inside the fence line now.
A toppled steeple from one of the many art galleries in town is staged to be returned to its normal place.
This empty lot is all that's left of a once very popular B&B within the US Antarctic Program, The Windsor.

As I walked closer to town, people were around but walking in stunned silence.  Recently the red-zone or area most affected in downtown shrunk allowing residents a closer glimpse of their city.  It was eerie to say the least glancing down side streets, over the fence line.  It was reminiscent of some post-apocalyptic city scene from a movie.  People were somber, saying "I remember when (insert favorite restaurant) used to be here" or snapping photos for friends or relatives elsewhere who abandoned their once homes.

Just as I thought I was ready to head back, I was drawn towards the steady flow of people into town.  I elected to follow and when I rounded a corner, I was shocked.  The city's heart and soul Cashel shopping district, was open and buzzing with people.  Only it was different.  This area was leveled by the quake.  In an effort to give people hope some entrepreneurs came together and reclaimed this spot calling it "Project Re:Start".  Utilizing the same area once covered by shops, they replaced them with a quick and simple solution utilizing mobile shipping containers and turning them into shops as a temporary place.  On the surface you may thing it sounds crazy, but they did an amazing job and this place was crazy with people.  It took me 20 minutes to get a coffee in the line there if that's a sign!
Hanging flowers along the sidewalks
Vibrant colors make the area pop against the grim demolition that surrounds it

The Coffee Shop as I wait for my capo

People seemed to love it.  They walked around, coffee in one hand, shopping bag in the other and a smile on the faces.  It was definitely an uplifting scene.  I began my walk back to go through the botanical gardens and take in the smells of spring.  Along the way as I left the new mall area, a grim reminder caught my eye.  I recognized a pub I went to a few times in a prior stay last February pre-quake that was closed and marked for demolition.  I went up to the window and was stunned to see what reminded me of a scene similar to that in Pompeii or Heculeneum in 79 AD went Mount Vesuvius erupted.  The inside of the restaurant was a snapshot in time.  All the tables were set, knocked over, toppled, one table still had food set on it abandoned in a panic. Another woman took a picture as I did, we spoke, this table was where her partner was sitting when it happened.
Table last sat at on February 22, 2011
The mark on many buildings still standing is also a reminder of the search and rescue efforts, also reminiscent of scenes from post-Katrina New Orleans.  Most every building around the area has one, also indicating their fate, whether or not to demo or repair as well.

I returned back via the gardens, a beautiful reminder of what this city has to offer.  The people have strong wills and love their town. I imagine in 3 to 5 years it will be a completely renewed city returned to its once beautiful self.

Some early spring beds caught my eye, full of color.  Ducks and ducklings were swimming about as I wandered around taking the in the smells I won't have in the frigid air on the ice.  Ahhhh....
However as I walked north through the park, another one of those "something's not quite right" moments came upon me.  I recognized what looked to be a construction project however after a couple questions, this project, was once Lake Victoria within the park.  When the quake hit, the surrounding soil experienced liquifaction and the earth reclaimed the lake leaving a small puddle and some very confused ducks.   
The remainder of the lake.
The liquifaction of surrounding soil during the earthquake.

The city is going to reclaim the land to the park.  In the meanwhile they have to move all the mud flows and make the area usable once again.

Wow, so that was a lot to see in a brief morning as I awaited to get my clothing and gear issue!  So I'll update that later once I return from the clothing distribution center. Until next time, Cheers!

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