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Monday, April 4, 2011

Where Christchurch's heart used to beat

Where Christchurch's heart used to beat

Last updated 05:00 05/04/2011
Above: City Mall, looking toward the Bridge of Remembrance
Here was a chance to see the shattered heart of a city that once thrived with a regular, healthy beat.

Yesterday, the only people in the mall were soldiers hurriedly erecting temporary barriers across smashed shop fronts.

For a brief period, journalists were able to access the badly damaged mall.

It is a scene of devastation.

Huge cracks twist through the facade of the red-stickered Whitcoulls building.

Metres away, a shop front has collapsed. An electrician's van sits partly crushed in piles of rubble.

Many display windows were shattered in the quake, said Lieutenant Michael Clulow, of the Royal New Zealand Engineers.

Some city businesses were left exposed to the weather and the threat of theft.

Army engineers have identified 24 central business district zones that need to be secured.

So far, 13 have been completed, with personnel working from south to north, securing two city blocks a day.

Plywood sheets are nailed on to shop fronts to offer some reassurance to business owners still unsure of their premises' fate.

The work should take another two to three weeks, Clulow said.

However, the zone around the leaning Hotel Grand Chancellor remains out of bounds.

Yesterday, army staff were working on the City Mall.

Even if some buildings were sound, there was a high risk of a badly damaged neighbouring structure collapsing, Clulow said.

Despite the damage, Ballantynes director Philip Richards said the department store wanted to reopen.

"Clearly, some buildings are very badly damaged, but there are others that are not," he said. "Our own building is fortunately among them. We've had some engineering advice that it can be used again, and quite quickly."

Richards said it "remained in the hands of the authorities as to when they can return".

However, he hoped the street would be rebuilt as "a pre-eminent shopping district".

"If you look around, there are plenty of other premises that would be quite viable," he said.

Outside the KFC at the intersection of High St and Colombo St, liquefaction remains piled up.

A putrid smell spreads from rotting food in nearby fast-food outlets.

Nearby, army personnel were busy boarding up Hanafins Pharmacy, Rip Curl and Subway.

At the ANZ building on the corner of Hereford and Colombo streets, the plywood is not high enough. Razor wire has been fixed in place to keep out would-be looters.

"Primarily, if we can we're using the existing locks store owners have to relock the premises, and failing that, if the doors are broken, or if they're using electric doors, we're making doors for them and padlocking it," Clulow said.

A handful of business owners will enter High St today to retrieve what they can. "At the moment, it's on a case-by-case basis [as to who can go in]," Clulow said.

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