Lesley and I went to dinner to a friend’s house in Kaiapoi, a suburb in Christchurch. Ken, Lesley’s friend, is involved in Traffic Management in Christchurch and had a big part to play in the recovery services after both big earthquakes there in 2010 and 2011. So I had the chance again to hear another personal experience of the earthquake. I love listening to these kind of stories.
I asked him if he could tell me what it was like during and after the earthquakes. He’s in charge of all the sites related to traffic management. So he has to coordinate all the teams involved in things like redirecting traffic when a building falls in a quake, (which might affect one or two roads), sewerage services, replacing pipes underground that have been damaged, putting back on manhole covers etc. They didn’t have as much trouble with broken pipes or traffic management with the September 2010 quake but it was terrible, he said, when the February 2011 quake hit, which tore the city apart
Everybody in Traffic Management thought, like everyone else, that things would settle down after the quake in September. They had everything repaired just before the end of the year and then the February quake hit. It was really bad, he said. The traffic that day was unbelievable, with everyone trying to get home or out of the city. Nearly every street was bumper to bumper and hardly any of the traffic was moving.
With liquefaction everywhere and roads buckled, there were cars that had sunk into the road. They worked seventeen or eighteen hours a day for the first few weeks, trying to get sewerage and water pipes fixed. They’d try to work on a street at a time and would work into the night, getting things fixed. There were people with sewerage flowing through their gardens because the pipes underground had burst or were blocked with sand from the earthquake. It was terrible and members of his team had to sort all of this out and get the repairs done as quickly as possible.
The strong quake on the 26th December 2011 was nearly as bad. Lots of people in his teams were sitting down to Boxing Day dinner when this quake struck and they had to drop everything and get out to various parts of the city to work on the damage. But he said the people were great. He has so much respect, he said, for the residents of Christchurch because of the help they gave to other people who weren’t as badly effected as themselves. His team were out working all hours and the residents came and brought them food, hot drinks and some of the older people even brought them scones, cakes and sandwiches to keep them going. Places like Rangiora set up distribution centres and they were helicoptering food, water and blankets to people in parts of the city that were stranded, with no food or water.
He also told me that on the year’s anniversary, on February 22nd this year, all the road cones in the city were decorated with flowers and people’s messages. It was very moving, he said. There was also a place where he was directing/blocking off traffic and it was near a primary school. A group of fifteen to twenty children, aged between five and six, with two or three teachers, wanted to cross the road and put bunches of flowers on the road cones. It meant he had to stop some of the traffic in an awkward place on the street, to let the kids cross but he said that if they wanted to do that, then he wasn’t going to stop them. It was sad but moving, he said, to see this row of five year old kids crossing the road, with flowers in their hands, putting them on the cones. Apparently someone started the idea and put it on facebook, just for that day, to remember the people who died in the February quake last year.