We've made it to the South Island of New Zealand, and are ready to experience some of the truly awesome examples of nature in the world, including the Trans-Alpine train across the Southern Alps, Franz Joseph Glacier, Queenstown, and the fjords of Doubtful Sound. The first stop, however, is a tour of Christchurch, the site of the catastrophic earthquake of 2011, and the second quake in nearby Kaikoura in 2016. Coming from Florida, I've lived through a hurricane, which was bad enough. Seeing first hand the havoc wreaked by an earthquake, however, is very unsettling.
There are major fault lines that run through the length of New Zealand. On the South Island, the Marlborough Fault System encompasses a series of parallel faults. These converge to form the Alpine Fault, a total plate that carries most of the boundary strain along the eastern side of the Southern Alps. While the Alpine Fault is considered to be at high risk of producing a major earthquake in the next 50 years, these 2 Christchurch earthquakes occurred along a relatively minor fault across the South Island.
Because of these faults, New Zealand is rife with earthquakes, including 23 on both islands over the last 2 centuries. The most destructive occurred in Wairarpa on the southern tip of the North Island in 1855. Measured at 8.2 on the Richter Scale, with a maximum horizontal movement along the fault of 18m, this was the largest displacement of a vertical fault line ever recorded!
On February 22, 2011, the ground began shaking at 12:51 PM with a force of 6.2 on the Richter Scale. While smaller in magnitude than the Wairararpa Quake, the location of this quake 6 miles south-east of Christchurch made it extremely destructive, killing 185 people. The economic fall-out from this event, taking into consideration business disruption, insurance administration, and rebuilding to higher standards, has been estimated at between $20-30 billion.
Many buildings in Christchurch were already structurally vulnerable, after being subjected to a first quake in September of 2010. The 2011 quake brought down many older brick and mortar edifices. Heritage structures including the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral, as shown here, were exposed to heavy damage. The substantial devastation was also incurred by the Provincial Council Chambers and Lyttelton's Timeball Station. The Hotel Grand Chancellor, Christchurch's tallest building, and a modern structure, had to be demolished.
As I walk around the cathedral, I'm struck by the persistent carnage. This structure appears to me like photos of London after being bombed by the Nazis in WW2.
The day after the quake, the National Crisis Management Centre declared a state of emergency. The central business district was cordoned off for more than 2 years. The city had 75% restoration of electricity within 3 days, but the water and sewage systems took up to several years to come online in areas affected by liquefaction.
I go back to my hotel room and think about what I've seen. Why haven't these buildings been rebuilt? According to the insurance industry, a number of aftershocks, and difficulties working with the government's earthquake agency have made for slow going. Meanwhile, homeowners in affected areas have had to move to temporary housing, while continuing to pay for their mortgages and insurance on their damaged properties. This doesn't sound fair to me!