The Devastation and Rebirth of Christchurch, New Zealand


New Press building, with The Rendezvous Building behind. Both new buildings, they are hailed as being able to withstand earthquakes.

As I neared The Press, staff members were streaming out in a state of total shock, some covered with blood and covered in dust. The top floor of the four-story building had collapsed. Some staff were trapped inside. Later, one staff member would die; another had her leg amputated.


I watched people smash windows high up on the 15-story PriceWaterhouseCoopers building. Stairways had collapsed and people were waiting to be rescued.

More violent aftershocks hit. With a colleague, I began a five-mile walk home. We gazed in awe at the fallen tower of the Christchurch Cathedral. It looked like a bomb had hit it. More toppled buildings. Some buildings strangely undamaged. The statues of the province’s founders, face down on the ground. Crowds of people, some frantically trying to reach loved ones on their cell phones, streaming out of the city.

Police swiftly sealed off streets. We were funneled out of the center, towards the city park. Nearing home, liquefaction came bubbling through the streets. There were even a few “sand volcanoes” in our garden. I inspected our house – same as before, some fallen books but no major damage as we had only low-rise shelves. Doors had warped and couldn’t be closed; we had no water or electricity.

The telephone still worked so we could reach people later on. I filed the front door so it would close. We couldn’t use the toilets or have a shower, so dug a hole in the garden. This would go on for over a week; for many, this scenario would endure for months.

Helicopters and military aircraft flew overhead. Once again, we relied on the radio for news.