Media Tour of Christchurch’s Earthquake-Damaged Red Zone

by on December 27th, 2010
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As a freelance journalist, I was invited on a media tour of Christchurch’s red zone and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Since the February 22 earthquake that took 185 lives, the CBD of the city has been cordoned off with tightly controlled access.

The tour was due to start at noon and prior to that, I had to report to the CERA office to obtain an access card for the day. That done, I joined dozens of other journalists who were waiting to board the bus. The dress code was sturdy walking shoes, a high-visibility vest and a hard hat.

Warwick Isaacs, CERA General Manager of Demolitions gave a running commentary as the bus passed through the military-controlled check point. He told us that we would be making four stops and would be free to capture footage and take photos at each. This was with the proviso that we not wander too far.

My last visit into the red zone was in November 2011 and the scenery had changed dramatically in three months. Many buildings had been demolished while others had suffered further damage in the 6.0 aftershock on December 23, 2011. Christchurch Cathedral was probably the best example of this. It was heartbreaking to see the city icon surrounded by weeds and rubble, with crooked walls and gaping holes.

On the corner of Lichfield St and High St, a number of historic buildings have been pulled down with large scale demolition continuing. The sound of digger claws scraping on concrete was a death knell and journalists were somber as they conducted interviews and filmed the damage. Most were from Christchurch and this was more than just a news item to them. This was their city, their home that had been devastated by an unbelievable force. It was personal and painful.

The tour lasted two hours and I came home with hundreds of photos. Although it was sad to see the twisted roads, derelict buildings and sink holes. Although it pained me to say goodbye to places I have worked in, played in and loved, I realized I am one of the fortunate ones who have had the opportunity to say farewell. The general population has not had the privilege of entering the red zone and wandering among the ruins. They have not had the chance to walk through a ghost town inhabited by construction workers and heavy machinery. They have not had a chance to grieve and say goodbye face to face. I have had that chance and will be eternally grateful for it.

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