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Monday, March 7, 2011

A new normal after Christchurch earthquake

Personal note: I drove down Fitzgerald today to see this for myself.  The photo looks bad enough; seeing it in person is a totally different experience.  That massive pile of concrete at the end is just one part of what's there, and you can get some scale of the damaged road by comparing it to the size of the cars beside it.

A new normal after Christchurch earthquake

Last updated 05:00 08/03/2011
ROUGH RIDE: Motorists negotiating a section of Fitzgerald Ave between Kilmore St and Bealey Ave yesterday drive past a frightening slump on the former northbound lane.
Two weeks after the February 22 earthquake, people in Christchurch are getting back to a new sort of normal.

Children are going back to school, elective surgery restarted yesterday, washing machines are running again in most of the city and businesses are reopening.

T & S Opticians, which was on the corner of Oxford Tce and Hereford St, is back operating with four staff from a spare office in Addington and is looking for new premises in the north of the city.

Director Jim Tritschler said he had retrieved the business's server and was awaiting orders from the damaged premises yesterday. He hoped to offer full services soon.

Christchurch today shows how quickly people adapt to a new reality.

The new normal, however, is nothing like the old.

Each day the toll is clearer. The deaths rise and yesterday the figure of 10,000 homes needing to be demolished was chalked up. Each day the impact shows more sides.

Ordinary things have become harder.

About 20 per cent of the city has still to experience the blessing of seeing clean water running from the taps.

These are houses in which the occupants must go to friends for showers and face daily runs to the local portaloo, if the street is lucky enough to have one. Power is back on in nearly all occupied homes but the system is fragile at peak periods and people have been told to exercise frugality.

More roads have started to reopen, including the Four Avenues, relieving pressure on roads further out. Open roads do not mean service as normal. Roads are bent and humped, providing a slow and bumpy ride. With the reopening comes the shock of seeing even more damage, this time unfiltered by camera lenses. As motorists negotiated a section of Fitzgerald Ave between Kilmore St and Bealey Ave yesterday they could see a massive slump on the former northbound lane. Minds go immediately to what it must have been like driving on a piece of road which dropped suddenly away.

The new reality for families with children means the simple things are now more complicated.

Getting children to school will be a mission for some.

Shirley Boys' High parents will have to get their boys across town to Papanui High.

Catholic Cathedral College in the inner city will set up shop at St Thomas in Riccarton.

The demand on roads and facilities will test patience.

Local shops, like the St Martins New World, have closed, meaning longer trips for residents of surrounding suburbs.

Many families have been split up to allow children to get out of the earthquake zone and go to school elsewhere. Western Springs High School in Auckland has at least three new pupils from Christchurch.

The homeless who have stayed in town will now have spent two weeks with friends or family and all concerned might be finding the initial conviviality is wearing thin.

Older relatives who have moved in with family may have high needs, adding to the stress.

With the disruption has come unprecedented job losses. Families will have to get used to one income, and in many cases the main income will be the unemployment benefit and a housing allowance. With that will come the social isolation and feelings of uselessness that comes with unemployment.

So far Earthquake Support subsidies have been approved for about 40,000 people, covering about 5400 employers and nearly 600 sole traders.

The lucky ones who still have jobs will be getting used to new workplaces and will be covering for colleagues traumatised by the earthquake or still tending to broken and leaky homes.

And yet the sight of the city carrying on, enduring, provides strength and inspiration, as does the knowledge that the thoughts of others are with the city.

An English entrepreneur has donated $4 million to rebuilding Christ Church Cathedral. Christchurch's homeless are being offered cheap flights to Fiji.

People are cleaning up, rebuilding, rescheduling, and adapting to the new normal.

- The Press

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