The Devastation and Rebirth of Christchurch, New Zealand


ABOVE: Christchurch Anglican Cathedral: The neo-Gothic stone cathedral was constructed from 1864 to 1904 and became a symbol for the city. The tower collapsed. Despite fierce calls to save the cathedral, it is earmarked for demolition.

About 40 seconds later it was over. We moved downstairs and switched on my ancient transistor radio. (Radio, by the way, is still the best communication tool after a disaster. Electricity may be cut, telephone and cell phone networks disrupted, and the internet down. Radio also provides a centralized, authoritative source of information.)
With no streetlights, an abiding memory was stepping outside and gazing up at a clear dark sky where stars, including the Southern Cross, shone as brightly as they do in remote wilderness areas.


The earthquake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was 25 miles from the city center in a rural area at a depth of six miles. (For reasons we shall explore later, the Richter scale is not necessarily the best measurement of earthquake intensity.)

Some big historic houses near the epicenter had sustained major damage. One historic triple-brick homestead, Homebush, owned by the Deans family since the mid nineteenth century, collapsed. A boy leapt from a window but survived.

Another house, Gunyah, run as a homestay by a friend of mine who is a landscape designer, suffered a big hit. Brick chimneys plummeted through the tiled roof into the bedrooms below, narrowly missing the occupants, their children, and guests. The house itself, which is wooden, survived. Owner, Simonetta Ferrari, later had the ceilings repaired and chimneys rebuilt out of lightweight material, and Gunyah reopened.