Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Back in Christchurch

I was not sure what to expect on my return to the earthquake hit city - how much would things have improved in the 5 weeks since I was last here? My overall impression is that we are still at sticking plaster phase - doing immediate tasks, but not yet into long-term rebuilding. Roads are mended, holes and cracks filled in, only to re-appear with the next aftershock. Portaloos and chemical toilets are an improvement on long-drops in the back garden, but a genuine flushing toilet still is my preferred option! The big decisions about the long term future are yet to be made.

In some places, unsafe or partially collapsed buildings have been demolished, and roads have been cleared of rubble. Shops are open, trying to operate business as usual, adjacent to red-stickered unsafe properties, or empty cleared plots.

On our arrival, we stopped at the site of the CTV building, where nearly 100 died - one end remains intact while the rest has been cleared. You can see the height of what was a 6 story building, and the size - a poignant reminder of the terrible destruction suffered. It is a place to be quiet and reflect, and my preference would be that it is left in this condition as a raw memorial. Let's not sanitise death and tragedy and human powerlessness.

We visited the Sumner-Redcliffs area, a beautiful part of Christchurch, now living under the continuing threat from looming cliffs with loose rocks and boulders. Life carries on as normal, and yet of course it cannot.

At some stage houses will be assessed, demolished and rebuilt, or extensive repairs carried out - meaning the residents have to move out. Areas have been found which will become temporary communities, for up to five years, with transient populations. There is an obvious and desperate need for a Christian presence, and the church is aware of this, but unsure how to respond. We visited one such site - hundreds of campers vans parked side by side - in effect, a one room home. Can people really cope in such conditions - I doubt it. We were horrified - imagine living for weeks on end, in a one bedroom house on wheels, with just a few feet between you and the next van. I am not sure what other facilities will be made available, but someone, somehow, has to try and make life bearable by offering community. When asked what ministry his church would offer to one such camp, a Vicar suggested it was more the kind of thing Church Army would be equipped to do. And he is right, but who, and how do we finance them?

Back in the day the National Director would simply send Church Army people to Christchurch and they would find somewhere to sleep at night, and somehow get food etc - but that isn't how we operate any more. Shame, because I suspect that by the time we are ready to respond, it'll be too late!

So, impressions so far - enormous needs and opportunities, but equal frustration because our response feels so inadequate. Who will come and join us?

My next blog will tell you what is happening, and how what we can do and are doing is making a difference.


  1. Thanks for the update Phil - it's good to know how things are going in Christchurch and what's happening there :)

    A question - why has the minister suggested Church Army as the ones to help the camp? Isn't it the role of ALL Christians to do that as well? Or, I would assume, is it that they are struggling to get things sorted as well?

    As a side note - I would love to be able to go and help in whatever way I can :)

  2. Strange to think it's only been 5 weeks...