The visit to Christchurch was emotionally draining. I’d never seen the effects of a natural disaster up close the way I did there.
Earlier this year I was worried that Hurricane Irma would hammer my hometown (Atlanta, Georgia). It did a lot of damage elsewhere, but unlike Opal, it mostly left my parents’ city alone. Hurricane Andrew was bad, as was Katrina, but Atlanta just isn’t close enough to the coast to ever get the worst of those storms.
Probably the closest I’ve personally come to experiencing a natural disaster was at the Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where I and my 8-year-old classmates nervously rode out the deadliest of the dozens of tornadoes that struck the region while were on a field trip. That night, us kids had fun playing with our flashlights because our hotel had no power. The next day I remember seeing buildings with their walls ripped away leaving raw gaps in the architecture like the gaps in a child’s smile, but a lot less cute. What force could do that? I didn’t know it then, but twenty people had died.
When in 2011 Christchurch was struck by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake on 22 February, it left 185 people dead and thousands injured.
The Quake City museum in Christchurch is an educational tourist attraction, but it’s hard to call it entertaining. I’m pretty sure going to the museum was the right thing to do, but it colored my experience for the rest of my brief stay in the city. Everywhere I looked, there was rubble, construction, graffiti, and a sense that everyone who hadn’t just up and left was making an effort to stand strong. It was a painful object lesson in the fragility of normalcy.
Below are 41 photos.
Heritage Christchurch Hotel
Christchurch Art Gallery
The labels on the artworks in this museum were the best I can ever remember seeing. I’m not a fan of modern art, but even the pieces I didn’t like looking at had fantastic descriptions that were easy to understand and shed light on the intent and significance of each piece. Some panels, in addition to the curator’s explanations in the curator’s words, had direct quotes from the artists. My favorite artist quote said something like “There isn’t much I can say about my art that is better than saying nothing at all.” I realized that’s true of a lot of things. Silence is golden.
The most compelling exhibit in the Quake City museum was a film showing tearful quake survivors telling their stories. The credits said the film was made by “12.51 Productions” or something like that. 12:51 is a pleasingly symmetrical number on digital clocks, but it is also the time the 2011 quake struck Christchurch. Sigh.