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A decade on from deadly earthquake


Ten years after the disastrous earthquake in Christchurch, as a commemoration ceremony is held today, the city still shows the scars of that dreadful day but the spirit of the people and the Canterbury province as a whole remains strong.

The quake which struck at 12.51pm on a working day, when the central city was packed, cost the lives of 185 people — New Zealand's fifth deadliest disaster.

The devastation to the buildings in the central business district, which had already been hit in the preceding September 2010 earthquake, was immense.

The collapse of the CTV building was responsible for 115 of those deaths. A Royal Commission later found that the design of the building was deficient and it should never have been approved.

Despite that, relatives of those who died are still seeking justice with no one actually charged.

It is hardly a surprise that the effects of the disaster are still being felt in a city that changed beyond recognition.

There is something unworldly about the central city still with wide areas left clear, almost something like London's East End after the Blitz. Parts of devastated buildings even remain on some sites.

The city lost more than 140 heritage buildings with traditionalists opposing CERA, the recovery authority set up by the government, but to no avail. Then Cabinet Minister Gerry Brownlee said if he had his way the buildings “would be down tomorrow”.

A number of buildings that have not been demolished stand vacant, as there are not enough possible tenants to justify redevelopment. Instead the owners earn a small amount from advertising on them.

By contrast, in the surrounding area there are a number of modern, low-cost housing developments sitting in rows along with new buildings away from the CBD.

The epicentre of the devastation is the ruined cathedral sitting in the square which was once the heart of the city. The nearby temporary cathedral, inaccurately known as the cardboard cathedral, is a world-leading architectural structure and the sign of hope for the city.

A visit to Christchurch will confirm that the spirit of the people has not been broken. They still call the South Island the Mainland and have a jibe for North Islanders, particularly if they come from Auckland. But it is patently obvious that the once-thriving tourist industry of the city has gone and they urgently need those northerners to try to fill the gap.