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Thursday, March 3, 2011

On the surface life seems normal

On the surface life seems normal

Last updated 05:00 26/02/2011
The damage is just so bloody random.

At the Night 'N Day dairy in Riccarton Rd it's business as usual. The store is open, it has power and is doing a roaring trade.

A milk truck pulls up to drop off fresh supplies and a group of teenagers is hanging around the corner, drinking and laughing.

Further along the road, the garden bar of a pub is busy – Christchurch residents deserve any beer they can find in this place – and a Thai restaurant is lit up in neon with a big sign outside saying it's open.

Couples are out walking or riding in the cool of the early evening and large parts of the neighbouring Hagley Park remain a picture of tranquillity, aside from the massive oaks and willows that appear to be having a bit of a lie-down.

But beside the dairy, a pile of bricks and rubble covering the footpath is all that remains of what looks like a second-hand book or music store.

It's hard to tell, since the overhanging balcony has collapsed over the shop front and all that remains of the upper storey is the framing.

Amid the rubble, the twisted and mangled remains of a car almost come up to knee height.

There are fresh flowers lying on the driver's seat, indicating that whoever had the misfortune to be in that car at 12.51pm on Tuesday very likely perished in the quake.

A man walking past mutters that it was clearly his or her time.

"What will be will be," he says.

"Their time was up, it's just lucky it wasn't ours," he says, before patting me gently on the shoulder and continuing on his way.

Closer to town, soldiers in camouflage uniforms stand beside camouflaged trucks with police, scrutinising the credentials of anyone trying to get past the cordon.

When you do get inside the fenced-off area, it's equally as baffling as it is outside.

Some streets look ridiculously normal. Well-tended gardens out front, neatly mown lawns and kids playing outside.

Then you notice that everything is not as it seems.

There's the almost constant drone of helicopters – military and civilian – flying overhead and a regular wail of sirens in the background, racing in one direction or another.

High-visibility vests are a more popular mode of dress than fashion probably demands and more than a few people are wearing hard hats and dust masks.

The busy pathway beside the Avon River quickly trips the unwary, with the asphalt running smoothly for metres before becoming a tricky series of holes, tears, ridges, splits and lumps.

It resembles more a pathway built by a shoddy DIYer than one that has been battered from below by massive forces.

The roads are much the same.

You can drive for ages without any sign of damage – then it can take ages just to pass one city block.

The suspension of at least one rental car in Christchurch has had a seriously good workout over the last couple of days.

Inside the cordon, they take things pretty seriously, with media clearly at the bottom of the food chain.

"Some of your [media] mates have been pushing their luck," one police officer told me. Try that and you'll get arrested, no questions.

I told him we both had idiots among our work colleagues. That, at least, got a smile out of him.
Media personnel are allowed to go from the edge of the cordon directly to Civil Defence HQ at the Christchurch Art Gallery.

With restrictions so tight and with so many media – national and international – wanting to get closer to the action, there is the bizarre situation where reporters and photographers are being taken on bus tours of the main sites as search and rescue teams continue their grim work.

Aside from the ghoulish tours, for people coming from out of town who did not live through this earthquake, it would be easy to think things aren't as bad as the sobering images being shown on television portray.

The motel has power; yesterday I was able to flush the toilet and there's a nice cooked breakfast available in another motel across the road.

But take a closer look at the houses nearby, whose boundary walls have collapsed. See the cracks running up the walls, the tiles missing from the roof and the holes where chimneys used to be. Hundreds of people who call these streets home will never walk them again.

- Waikato Times

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