Around 1:30 am I woke up from the ground shaking. Not a guy with a jack-hammer next to you type rumble, but rather a moderately slow but still very significant 5.2 on the Richter scale back and forth sway. The event was one of many, many aftershocks which continue to plague Christchurch. And despite me being on the Banks Peninsula 60 miles outside the city center, I still very much felt it.
Growing up on the U.S. East Coast, earthquakes were always the things that happened somewhere else. I remember one from when I was a kid, but it was laughably small and could have been easily duplicated by a truck passing in front of the house.
In New Zealand, not so much. If one happens, you’ll feel it. For those of you that don’t remember, Christchurch was hit by a very significant 7.1 earthquake in September 2010. Surprisingly, the city escaped with only moderate damage and no fatalities. The real blow came in February 2011 when a smaller 6.3 extended the damage to an already weakened infrastructure. Overnight the Central Business District became inoperable, the city’s defining Cathedral was destroyed and New Zealand’s second largest city became a ghost town.
It’s a sad story to watch unfold. A city anxious to rebuild is constantly being put put on hold. And while I do get tired of always reading about the aftershocks, liquefaction, and general sense of fear in the papers, it is still a big deal. Nearly one year after the event and still no major reconstruction efforts made, there is now even talk of rebuilding the lost infrastructure in a different city altogether. A sort of infrastructure transplant so to speak.
In a twisted sort of way, I somewhat enjoyed experiencing my first “largish” sized earthquake. And just as quickly as it came, the novelty wore off. The realization of how destructive these natural disasters are quickly set in.
I won’t speculate on what the future holds for Christchurch, because to be honest, I have absolutely no idea. I don’t think anyone does. But an afternoon stroll outside the Central Business District looking through the chain-link fences into the empty shell of a city was a stark reminder of just how destructive nature can be.