Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Shaken City

I landed in Wellington, New Zealand, just 6 days after the massive earthquake which rattled Christchurch so violently that the ground literally turned to mulch. I was in the country for a wedding but the timing felt very poignant, and it was a relief to simply be closer to home amid such devastation. The official death toll is at 166, and given the entire country's population is a mere 4 million, that's a significant blow and one which is felt throughout New Zealand.

My second night in New Zealand an earthquake hit Wellington, where I was staying, although I was so wiped out by jet lag I slept right through it. My dad, in the next room, said he felt the whole house rock backwards and forwards. It was not a massive quake, and it caused no damage but it was a reminder that something like this can happen anywhere, any time. Meanwhile, Christchurch was being hit by several aftershocks, which further threatened recovery operations. A third of the city was going to be bulldozed. Whole suburbs were going to have to be demolished, and rebuilt somewhere else. Can you even imagine such a thing? It was hard to mould this information into a fathomable, realistic shape within my consciousness.

There was a video which was being shown around the world the day after the quake, which featured a man being rescued from the rubble, groaning in pain. On that day, that small piece of footage touched something in me and made me cry. After that video went out the rescued man, a Christchurch baker, disappeared and nobody - not even his family - could find him. By the time I reached New Zealand I discovered via the national newspaper that he had been found... and that he had died in hospital from his injuries. It is small portions of the disaster such as this which are somehow easier to digest, and therefore break my heart.

Even those who were fortunate not to have known someone hurt or killed or left homeless by the quake are feeling the strain. As Christchurch's population flees the damage and spreads itself out across the other major cities including Auckland and Wellington, the demand for jobs, flats, and education in these places has skyrocketed. Trying to rent a flat may come down to bidding wars. The country's financial situation is under strain as billions of dollars is required from somewhere to rebuild the country's second biggest city. This year's Rugby World Cup, the international event expected to bring in huge revenue to the country, is now having to relocate its matches as bringing thousands of tourists to Christchurch is not going to be possible.

Of course, what made it so wonderful to be back in New Zealand while all of this was going on was that I got to experience that incredible community spirit that bonds the whole country. The news covered Christchurch above everything else, telling stories of generosity, kindheartedness, loss, sadness and the mind-boggling damage. There were interviews with people who gave suggestions on building makeshift toilets, strangers who were giving out food to families, and TV presenters encouraged support and sent their wishes to the city during every programme. 80% of newspaper coverage was focused on the quake. Every little shop, pub, school or church in every town across New Zealand were hosting fundraising events, offering profits to the city's recovery, or showing their support through positive campaigns.  You could not walk down a street, open a paper, watch TV or listen to the radio without feeling an invisible pair of arms embracing everyone and pulling them close in this time of devastation. I have never felt this anywhere else - I accept this might simply be because New Zealand is my homeland, and perhaps others would say the same community perspective is found in their home country as well. All I know is that New Zealand might as well be one big city, because we're all in it together.

My thoughts also go out to the people in Japan, who I know are dealing with something so incredibly awful on such an enormously bigger scale.... but I will not forget Christchurch, who still need our help and support.

No comments:

Post a Comment