Tremor-prone city still cautious in wake of deadly 2011 quake
A country that endures about 20,000 earthquakes every year must take plenty of time to rebuild
IN THE aftermath of the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch that killed 181 people, the New Zealand government bought and freighted in 960 portable toilets. As many again were hired overseas, with almost 2,000 on the city’s destroyed streets at one point.
Christchurch’s sewage system has largely been replaced now, and just 75 portable toilets remain in service. The rented ones have been returned and some others have been damaged beyond use, but more than 800 sit in neat rows on a site in the suburb of Sockburn, waiting for their fate to be decided.
Christchurch is in no hurry to get rid of them. Many of the toilets were back in service following major aftershocks last December 23rd.
The city’s caution is wise. New Zealand gets about 20,000 earthquakes every year. While we were there, a 7.0-magnitude quake struck the North Island (Christchurch is on the South Island), followed by a 4.6-magnitude aftershock nine minutes later. Though it was the biggest earthquake to strike the Taranaki region in 120 years, the area is sparsely populated, so little damage was done and there were no casualties.
With tremors a constant fact of New Zealand life, it is no wonder many Cantabrians (the demonym for people from Christchurch) are self-medicating to cope with the pressure. Paul Rout, of Christchurch’s Alcohol Drug Association, told the Press newspaper that “steady stress over time” is beginning to take a toll. Thousands have called the association’s helpline since early last year; most were seeking help for their own alcohol or drug dependency, but many were worried about family or friends.
“It takes about 18 months until we start to see real mental health problems,” Mr Rout said. “We’re getting to that point now where some of that initial resilience is wearing out.”
The latest available figures show the Christchurch population fell by 8,900 (2.4 per cent) after the earthquake, meaning the capital, Wellington, overtook it as New Zealand’s second-biggest city after Auckland.
With government and other investors set to spend NZ$20 billion (€13.09 billion) on rebuilding Christchurch over the next five years (the equivalent of almost 1.5 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product), it is hoped the population will soon start to recover.
The blueprint for how the reconstructed city will look has just been issued. The plans show a compact, low-rise central business district, with separate retail, sporting and cultural precincts, all surrounded by open green space.