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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Port a Symbol of Hope Amid the Rubble

Port a symbol of hope amid the rubble

Last updated 05:00 04/03/2011

The powerful jolt rocked and rolled the quake epicentre, lifting two 1400-tonne Lyttelton Port cranes off the ground and out of their rails.

It was an awesome display of power.

However, the bustling port is already back on track

The heart of Lyttelton and Christchurch's vital trade link will again be a fully operational container port this week, with the damaged wharves quickly being fixed.

But Lyttelton Port chief executive Peter Davie said there was more work to do.

"It is a major job and there is no date for when we will be back to normal," he said.

Water and power have been restored and the roads have been patched up, but there is a long journey ahead.

Above the port, London St has been transformed from a funky and bustling array of cafes, shops and bars to desolation row.

The cordon has been lifted, but a slalom of metal fences has been erected to keep people away from the damaged sites. Not that there are many people on the streets. Police, army and navy patrols make up the bulk of pedestrians.

On Wednesday afternoon, the London St Dairy and a coffee stall in the library doorway were the only businesses up and running on the usually popular street.

London St Dairy co-owner and Local Business Association chairman Andrew Turner said shops needed to reopen quickly.

"Our local economy is very, very fragile at the moment so we need to get as many shops operating as we can. We need them to keep the commercial centre alive."

Turner said London St could have more open shops by the end of the week.

The hairdresser, barber, accountants' firm, pharmacy and Lyttel Piko on London St were all ready to reopen, he said.

The centrepiece Harbour Light theatre is less fortunate. The Empire Hotel, the Lyttelton Coffee Company and the Four Square supermarket also appear badly damaged.

"The feeling is that Harbour Light won't survive," Turner said.

"The face of the street will look very different and it will be a long time before London St is running normally again. We need to make sure it is better than it was before."

Lyttelton Coffee Company co-owner Stephen Mateer is operating a temporary stall outside the closed London St library. He said Lyttelton was quieter on Wednesday.

"Today we are starting to notice that people are leaving. It feels like quite a few people have moved on," he said.

On Dublin St, a woman was packing her car with possessions in preparation for a flight to Auckland.

At the Civil Defence welfare centre on Winchester St, Lyttelton resident Jules Lee was coordinating help for the town. She said about six people had left their house keys at the centre so people could stay in their homes.

Three churches on Winchester St are badly damaged. St Joseph's Catholic Church has lost its front wall, the Lyttelton Union Parish Church has a collapsed spire and the 1860 Holy Trinity Anglican Church has lost walls and windows.

Schools are also closed.

At Lyttelton Main School, five of the classrooms are red-stickered, two are threatened by the nearby police station and two are safe. Lyttelton West School is also closed until further notice.

The historic Timeball Station above Lyttelton may be demolished.

More hopefully, the oldest building in Lyttelton has survived, offering shelter to emergency workers. The Grubb Cottage on London St dates to 1851.

Another venerable building is providing shelter for quake refugees. The nearby Rapaki marae has opened its doors to about 40 quake refugees a night, including those evacuated from homes in the path of a landslide above Rapaki Bay.

Up to 100 people are coming to the marae every evening for hot food.

Rapaki Bay resident Elaine Couch moved to the marae after two boulders destroyed her home.

In Governors Bay, the school is closed until further notice, the Governors Bay Hotel is shut and Cholmondeley, a children's home, is badly damaged. It will reopen in a temporary facility nearby next week.

However, there is always hope amid the rubble.

Governors Bay restaurant She Chocolat is using its double-decker bus to deliver 500 litres of hot chocolate to welfare centres and rescue workers in the CBD.

She co-owner Declan Scott said it was a good way to help. "It is beautiful to be able to share and give people something that will nourish them."

Back at Rapaki marae, Elaine Couch tells of being at the quake epicentre.

She stood frozen in shock as two massive boulders smashed into her home and a third hit her driveway, bouncing within metres of her, before bowling through her neighbour's home.

Couch was gardening outside her Rapaki Bay home when the earthquake sent massive boulders bouncing down Tamatea Hill.

One went through the roof, destroying her kitchen, while a second went through a window, smashed a wall and landed in her bedroom.

The third boulder bounced past her and went through her nephew's next-door home.

"There was a terrific noise and the rocks were bouncing. I just stood and watched that big one bowl through my nephew's house. I am just so glad it was in the daytime.

"When we had that aftershock at night we could hear the rocks coming, but couldn't see anything."

Son, Brent Couch, was in tears assessing the wreckage of his childhood home.

"We have spent so many years here, all those family Christmases and everything. It is hard to come back here."

He said his mother was lucky to be alive.

"She was bloody lucky. The fact that the boulder took a bounce is the only thing that saved her life."

- The Press

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