Sue Wells – The New Canterbury Tales

May 2, 2011

Impressions from the Red Zone #chch #eqnz

The councillors went into the Red Zone today. That’s the part of the central city which is still cordoned off, with access on a need-only basis. It’s still strictly controlled, now by CERA rather than by Civil Defence.

We had to fill in forms which were very clear and explicit about the level of hazard we were entertaining by going in. The last line suggested we read our life insurance policies carefully. (I didn’t, but I appreciated the advice.)

We were carefully briefed ahead of going in. We were to stick together, not wander off, enter as a unit, exit as a unit. If we heard three loud blasts on a whistle we would be leaving immediately – ditto if there were to be a significant aftershock.

We were to walk in the middle of the street, not on footpaths as parapets remain on some buildings and they are prone to falling off without warning during aftershocks. To trust our instincts, and if we felt we were in harm’s way, to talk to one of our escorts. And to watch out for vehicles, because the central city is a construction/demolition zone – there are contractors working and there are no traffic rules in there.

23 of us, escorts included, went in this morning. We spent two hours, and we only saw a portion of the zone. I saw most of it through my camera lens. It’s easier that way.

Liquefaction throughout Victoria Square. Damage to the land around the Town Hall. Colombo Street basically largely gone. New Regent intact for the moment, but major upgrading will need to be done.

Cashel Mall a mess. The cross streets variable.

We didn’t get to Manchester (I’ve seen into it already – it’s in large part gone.) Nor did we get into High Street, but you can see from St Asaph outside the red zone how bad the damage is. SOL Square is apparently not too badly off, but razor wire has been erected at Poplar Lane to stop entry.

It’s awful seeing our city with no people. It feels like visiting a comatose patient in a hospital. You’re waiting for something to happen, wondering if and when they will wake up, and if they do in what state will they be?

There’s no doubt in my mind that we will have a new central city, and by the middle of this month we will have completed our first community workshops where you can come and have your say about your hopes and dreams for our future. It’s not until the council has heard from you that we can begin formulating a coherent, integrated community plan.

It’s not an easy thing to do, make a plan in such a dynamic environment. This earthquake event hasn’t finished yet, that much seems to be apparent. We have buildings currently standing which are obviously on borrowed time, and some where that is likely to be the case, we just don’t know it yet. The buildings that fell, and which have already been taken down are the beginning of what is going to be a very long series of changes for our city.

The changes will come in waves, we think. The first of those has begun and continues now. After the easy decisions come the insurance based decisions, where strengthening may be unachievable and demolition a more pragmatic option. Some of the buildings currently standing if needing t0 be demolished could well shut down streets for weeks – when you think about that the magnitude and timeline for the job to be done in the central city seems almost too big. Yet it isn’t. It’s no different to eating any other elephant. You just do it one bite at a time.

And then there will be those buildings which end up abandoned until someone steps in and a decision is taken. We have no idea what the scale of that will be. Hopefully it won’t be overly large.

In the middle of all the shots of the broken buildings (copy and paste the facebook link below and you should get to a public album), you’ll see the first picture I took today. It is a beautiful sunrise, shot in Dunedin. Every day, the sun comes up. Every day there is beauty. Every day we have to have faith that the sun will keep rising over our beautiful city, and that one day she will glimmer in the sun, a shining city that we will all be proud of. It hurts looking back. It needs to be done, but then we have to move on.

We are going to have a new central city, that we will have shaped and planned and built together. Do not doubt that for a minute – that is one thing you can be certain of.

Another is this. We’re have an amazing opportunity here, that will challenge and stimulate us even as it is horrible and hard. In the most awful of ways, we have been blessed with the chance that most communities never have. We have the chance to remake our brand new place, together, out of our shared hopes, and dreams, and memories, and creativity, and talent, and courage, and love. Whether we like it or not, we are living in interesting times.



  1. Thank you Sue for once again keeping us in the loop, I seem to be getting more information from people like yourself, than we do from the proper channels. You had some great photos of the front of my building, the Link Centre on High St oposite unlimited. First time we have really seen the scale of the damage. Keep it up.

    Comment by Nick Haley — May 2, 2011 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

    • Nick I’m so sorry about your building. It’s pretty rugged in there. If there’s anything more I can try to do, let me know.

      Comment by Sue Wells — May 2, 2011 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks so much for sharing these pictures. You took pictures of things we really wanted to see. I was following you on Twitter, man were you moving fast! lol those pictures were flying up 🙂 My teenagers have been really wanting to see photos of their school, and were stoked to see it. Sadly it looks ok, although they will never get to go back there. Sometimes I just wish for my happy life back !!

    Comment by deb — May 2, 2011 @ 6:52 pm | Reply

    • New happy life. New happy life. Repeat after me….. (I hear you, and I get that. Some days, me too. Mainly days when the sun isn’t shining. That makes such a big difference.) I’m chuffed your teens have seen the pix – feel free to share. I put a note on the UPT page – and it suddenly dawns on me I don’t think I’ve shown it to mine! Mother of the year, not! 🙂

      Comment by Sue Wells — May 2, 2011 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

  3. Thanks Sue. I can still remember clearly looking up Hereford street that day and being amazed that I could see right inside the Hanafins building at Colombo Street.
    Perhaps those who complain about not being let into the CBD should be made to look at these shots.

    Comment by Glenda Burt — May 2, 2011 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

    • You’re very welcome, Glenda. I can really understand how people feel though. It’s like a closed casket. You need to see what you’ve lost to make it real sometimes or else you don’t get the kind of closure you need to move on. Sadly though, nobody is going to thank CERA (because it’s their call now) for more deaths, and that’s the risk that’s being run every time people go in.

      Comment by Sue Wells — May 2, 2011 @ 11:31 pm | Reply

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