Most of you have heard about the devastating earthquakes that took place here, the biggest of which was in February. This past Friday we had the opportunity to go into the city and see the effects for ourselves (for those of you who don't know...I live in Oxford, a small town about 50 minutes from the city). Now I had expectations of what the city would look like and what state the city was in...but my assumptions were completely off. Since I believe one of the most powerful things in the world is knowledge, so here's my small perspective on the state of Christchurch. I hope it enlightens you and inspires you to spend some time in prayer for the city, its people, and the people who have been sent here to help (including my teammates and I).
Before I jump into a description of the city I want to give you a little background. The first major earthquake that hit Christchurch actually took place last September. While New Zealand has been known to be an "earthquake zone," Christchurch was never thought of as one of the cities in real danger. (Making them less prepared). While there wasn't a lot of damage and there was no causalities, it weakened the structures of many buildings and really put the people on edge. Then in February when the second earthquake struck, the buildings just fell apart, literally. The foundations moved several feet. The pavement buckled. One of the hardest hit areas was the city centre. To give you a good analogy, think of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago being destroyed. Although the city isn't quite that big, that is the importance of the city centre to Christchurch. It was the center of all the main restaurants and tourists attractions. As you can see on the map below (areas known as the red zone) those areas are completely fenced off. There are several blocks of buildings that are completely condemned. 1/3 of the city has to be demolished because the buildings are no longer safe. That is approximately 900 buildings and homes (no exaggeration. i think its actually a little over 900.) Can you just imagine? Its heartbreaking. This city has been rocked to its core. Literally.
As we toured around the city and looked into the red zone areas, I couldn't help but be reminded of the movie "I am Legend" (the movie with Will Smith in NYC after it is overtaken by a plague). There are buildings everywhere with red circles on them signifying their condemnation. Entire streets are empty, void of people. Cars are abandoned, houses are left just as they were the moment people were forced to evacuate. Some buildings an entire wall would be knocked down and you could see the rooms sitting exactly as they were when the earthquake happened. It felt like looking in a Barbie house that had been shaken.
At one point we stopped by the former location of the CTV building. This was the big news station in Christchurch. This was one of the buildings that not only moved but completely collapsed. Here is the building pre-earthquake:
And then as we went further out toward the outskirts of the city (closer to the epicenter) there were even more homes that had been abandoned. It was so sad to walk through entire neighborhoods and see that only about 1 out of 3 houses were still inhabitated. In the neighborhood we were handing out cookies in, I had the opportunity to talk to a woman named Jane about everything that had happened. Her house was in the red zone. Everyone in that area has to leave by March 2012. Yep, that's right. Even if the house isn't condemned the earth they are living on is no longer safe so EVERYONE has to move out and the government will come through and plow down the entire area. The plates are not expected to be settled for another 50 years. An entire suburb of Christchurch will be no more. And not everyone has places to go. Insurance claims are a nightmare. And because the neighborhoods are starting to become empty looters are a major issue. People no longer know who is supposed to be in their neighborhood and who isn't. Its quite scary. And so sad.
What has been done? Well the process of rebuilding Christchurch is no easy task. Most of the buildings have been inspected (EVERY building and home has to be inspected) and now the process of demolition has begun. Understandably, this process is quite complicated. Not only are there still aftershocks (there have been 1000s of aftershocks since February and we actually felt one in Oxford last week), but the buildings are quite fragile. The big concern is that if they blow up some of the bigger buildings, which is the normal process of demolition for big buildings, it will create another earthquake/aftershock and destroy other buildings. Its like a giant game of pick up sticks. Everything has to be meticulously cleared away.
Needless to say, my heart is heavy. The people of Christchurch need our prayers. Prayers for healing. Prayers for comfort. Prayers for the restoration of the city. One girl talking about our visit poignantly said, "Christchurch isn't completely dead; it's now time for a resurrection!" Christchurch, like many cities throughout the world, has become quite distant from its namesake in the past few decades. It is my prayer that Christchurch will become a city desparately following after the Savior of the world; please join me in this prayer.
Peace and Love.