With civil war in Libya and budget battles in our Capitol, the devastating earthquake that wrecked large swaths of the New Zealand city of Christchurch has vanished from the headlines of my two daily newspapers.
True, this magical country, in which visitors can leave a dripping rain forest in the morning and walk on a sunny, deserted, windswept beach hours later, lies many thousands of miles away, off the map of most Americans’ awareness. But its hearty, wry and friendly people shouldn’t vanish from our concern as quickly as the buildings of its second largest city toppled during the lunch hour of Feb. 22, when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake on the Richter Square toppled its main cathedral spire and pancaked a five-story office building, among others.
The devastation to this city, filled before the quake with historic brick buildings, many already weakened by a larger but more distant quake in September, is starkly captured by The Press, the city’s paper, in its daily at a glance statistical summary of the earthquake.
- The death toll stands at 159, with 50 still missing. (It was raised to 160 today.)
- There have been more than 200 aftershocks.
- Some 10,000 homes are still uninhabitable and a third of the city is without water.
- Among the injured, 10 quake victims had limbs amputated.
- Schools remain closed.
This city will take years if not decades to recover, if it ever fully does. And I’d suspect the ripple effect throughout New Zealand’s South Island, which relies significantly on the tourist trade that flies in and out of Christchurch, will be great.
David Carter, the country’s acting economic development minister and a Christchurch native, told the New Zealand Herald that the city will take more than 10 years to rebuild.
Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale told The Press that as many as two-thirds of the city’s core buildings may have to be demolished and that it will be at least seven months and possibly until next Christmas before the city center reopens.
Having lived through the San Francisco Bay Area’s 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and worked as a newspaper editor then, these Christchurch projections are staggering, substantially worse in scope, for example, than the significant devastation to city’s such as Santa Cruz close to the Loma Prieta epicenter.
New Zealanders are tough and stoic folk who’ve lived in this wild land a long while now. But they are relatively few in number (count nine sheep to each person there) and, I’m certain, would welcome the world’s help.
The New Zealand Red Cross allows online donations at the lined website.