Epicentre of kinship

the beginning of the Christchurch earthquakes

In ordinary times, that people gather and lend their hand to help those in need is a comforting cliché. Then, when people remain during a time of earthquakes, tunnel into moving rubble to pull out survivors, from their own goodness bring hot drinks and food and treat the injured and raise an army of their fellows to help out people they’ve never met, they make an extraordinary tale that can nourish a nation for generations to come.

The Christchurch earthquakes raise in us a rare gamut of raw emotion. Seldom are we witness to events of such outrageous, capricious cruelty and it has been hard to watch as each day delves deeper into the city’s tragedies. Some of us have learned of surprising, unforeseen effects of earthquakes.

We knew of buildings shaking and toppling and the earth opening up to engulf the unlucky, but who imagined mud spurting from the solid ground, spewing like volcanoes or suddenly undermining the foundations of buildings or swallowing vehicles?

Then, after that misfortunate marvel, who suspected the black mud could set like concrete in just a few hours? What miseries it has caused.

The focus has been on the urban catastrophe. In surrounding farmland, the earthquake induced maybe a mild crease in the pasture, or caused perhaps the northern half of a shelter belt to be forever two metres east of the rest, or gave a railway track an alarming twist.

But in the city, similar minor movements of the earth created havoc with our puny buildings, roads and bridges. People were trapped or killed outright as their familiar, everyday buildings betrayed and crushed them.

We hear now tales of courage, kindness and steady compassion which inspire us with new zeal as New Zealanders. Fresh new zeal is just what the world needs, and New Zealand is just the place to find it. We’re a naturally retiring people, but when we treat each other like this, we cannot conceal from a watching world what’s truly in our hearts.

The following selection of images pays tribute to the injured and the dead, the bystanders and the properly trained, the civic workers and the generous, visiting amateurs from other towns and even from other countries who have done and are doing so much to help citizens recover from Christchurch’s surprising and devastating earthquake of 22 February, 2011.

map of Christchurch earthquakes

bent rails

Christchurch earthquake

Christchurch earthquake

Christchurch earthquake

Christchurch cathedral

Christchurch bus

Phil Keoghan

Earthquake rubble

Earthquake search

Team work

Wrecked house




a boulder's rampage

a boulder's rampage

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5 Thoughts on “Epicentre of kinship

  1. Richard C (NZ) on 07/03/2011 at 11:28 am said:

    I remember seeing the Pyne Gould building in a property portfolio several years ago (when I was looking to invest – times have changed for me) and thinking that it looked vulnerable to earthquakes but I never imagined the type of quake that ensued. I imagined most of the force to be sideways – not vertical.

    I have since learned that there was a severe uplift at 2-3 times the acceleration of gravity followed by an immediate drop. This means that the stairwells withstood the impact shock of the drop because concrete performs well in compression but the the floors sheared off the stairwell and pancaked because there seemed to me to be insufficient column support for the floor area similar to the twin towers in New York and minimal tie-in of floor-slabs to columns and stairwells. The spans and cross-sections of the floor support beams seem adequate on the other hand (the inquiry might prove me wrong of course).

    In the time I worked as a structural drafty on multi-story reinforced concrete structures (late 70’s), I cannot remember the engineers designing for that type of vertical shock load but they did pay a great deal of attention to the beam-column junctions to withstand seismic action. The object being that the building although damaged maintains enough structural integrity to preserve human life with factors of safety depending on it’s function (hospital, office etc).

    But if such a design were possible to withstand the vertical uplift at Christchurch, I’m sure it would not have such an expansive floor area fixed to a stairwell in the middle or if it did the design would be more robust. (some Wellington buildings sit on a rubber/lead buffers but how they perform under shock impact remains to be seen). Either the floors and beams are robustly tied to stairwell columns or the stairwell might be a separate structure with a seismic gap separation. I just don’t see beams tied to columns in the photo above. I don’t even see stairwell columns and what tie there was between beams and stairwell has easily separated. The outer columns were completely inadequate, every one has failed completely.

    The CTV building seems to be a similar case. It has concerned me in the years since my structural stint that design and construction expediency has grown lax. Like the leaky building situation, it is not until time or testing under severe conditions that faulty design/construction/materials are exposed. But when the test does come, all structures with a similar flaw fail similarly.

    Both were relatively modern buildings that should not have pancaked but the historic buildings were never structurally sound in the first place. The locals would be best to sever their attachment to historic buildings because of the obvious danger. Better I think, to follow the San Francisco example of demolishing the old buildings and constructing replicas to modern earthquake standards. When it’s done well, no-one knows the difference and that includes tourists but the amenities are far better and safer for all concerned.

  2. Alexander K on 08/03/2011 at 12:41 am said:

    Excellent article, Richard – in my opinion (FWIW) you have encapsulated the Kiwi character very well. From where I am, living in outer London for another few months before we return home to NZ after almost a decade living and working in the UK, it is very difficult to even think about the many who were killed and all those who have seen a lifetime’s work demolished without becoming emotional. We are relieved and thankful that our relatives and friends who live in and near Christchurch have escaped any serious damage to themselves and their property, but we are also very mindful of all that has happened there and what the survivors must get through before we can all put the event behind us.
    On a slightly different note, I was utterly disgusted by the nasty tone of an article by McLean, an old and silly journo of the warmist persuasion, who writes the most egregious rubbish on climate matters in London’s The Telegraph, in which he wittered on at length on the Gaia-ist theme of the earthquake as a part of ‘Nature’s Revenge’ – all of it utter c**p and very similar to the nasty religious rants by various US preachers about the Hurricane Katrina’s damage to New Orleans being payback for Mans’ sins.
    No doubt Christchurch will emerge in time as a much safer but still lovely city.

  3. Andy on 08/03/2011 at 9:43 am said:

    We evacuated to South Canterbury the day after the quake. The people here have been amazing. The local school took our son in on the Monday, and people have been baking cakes and helping out.

    The local builder took off in his truck up to town and fixed up people’s chimneys etc for free

    I feel quite humbled really, as we weren’t that badly hit (relatively speaking)
    We are glad to be away from the aftershocks though.

    There’s quite a good map taken from space of the quake here:

  4. Andy on 18/03/2011 at 8:34 pm said:

    Some observations from today, Memorial Day in Christchurch.

    We didn’t head into town for the service. It all seemed too hard as it now takes over an hour to get into Christchurch from the beach. (Before the quake, 20 mins)

    Lot’s of traffic and dust make traveling difficult. It maybe takes a good 2 hours round trip to drop my son off at school, which makes the long-term possibilities seem a bit limited.

    We have some fairly major cracks in our house foundations. There is a good chance that part or all of it will have to be demolished.

    The service looked great. It was wonderful t see Prince William engaging with the locals in such a natural manner. The old folk in Sumner seemed particularly chuffed.

    This is definitely a game-changer for us. I have found myself having 10-15 min conversations with complete strangers, including the woman who reversed into my car in the supermarket yesterday. Bizarrely, I’ll probably not bother with an insurance claim; the car’s buggered and it goes with the house now.

    Somehow the priorities in life have changed.

    If I feel the need to moan, then I think of the poor folk in Japan.

    We have everything compared to them.

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