Saturday, 4 September 2010

Christchurch earthquake

By David

Residents of Christchurch and nearby towns now, perhaps know a little of what it feels like to be in a city in Afghanistan when it's under attack from “Coalition Forces”.

Except no one here is dead and although the ground continues to shake from time to time, we can be fairly confident the worst is over, and we know, of course, that none of this was deliberately planned to kill and destroy. Nevertheless, there must be some similarity in all such disasters, whether “natural” or deliberate.

The sense of fear, confusion and isolation, with the power, phone and water cut off (fortunately none of these things happened in my neighborhood), not knowing the fate of friends and family, not knowing if you have suffered more or less than others.

The varying reactions of panic and calm, “let’s get out of here”, or “let’s go back to bed” (do these things always happen in the middle of the night?).

Then the warnings (ignored) about keeping off the roads, about boiling water for three minutes (does the jug do that?) and not flushing the toilet, because the sewerage system is wrecked. Cooking on the fire, as my parents are doing, or making alternative toilet arrangements as we are.

Seeing the cracks in the chimney, seeing the holes in neighbors roofs, hearing of those injured and wondering if it's safe to sit near it.

And now, learning that the damage is worse than first thought, of the of the central city and Kaiapoi evacuations, of the shelters set up in schools. I’m thinking of all the plumbers and electricians who will be working flat out for the next few days, while many of us aren’t sure what to do.


Anonymous said...

As bad as it is, this disaster could have been much worse.

A quick comparison of the Haiti earthquake which seemed to be of similar strength, with the epicentre at a similar distance from Port au Prince as it was from Christ Church, the death toll in Port au Prince was approximately a quarter of a million souls with 300,000 wounded and a million people made homeless. Though the figures for the Christchurch Earthquake seem to be changing and often in conflict. The figures (so far) seem to show that similar to the Haiti quake the Christchurch earthquake was relatively shallow and near the city centre.

Port au Prince – 7
Christchurch – 7.1

Distance from epicentre:
Port au Prince – 25km
Christchurch – 33km/44km

Depth of quake: The Haiti earthquake and the Christchurch quake were both estimated to be at a depth of 10km.

Death toll:
Port au Prince – 230,000
Christchurch – 0

Clearly despite the similar nature of the physics, the disparities in outcome could not be more different.

Truely the term “class-quake” is very apt description of what happened in Haiti.
The terrible disaster that befell Haiti barely qualifies as natural.

In fact due to the oppressive subservient position forced on Haiti by the West, the Haiti disaster could be more accurately described as a war crime.

David said...

Been listening to talk back (not something I normally do) because it has more on-going coverage. One caller made the point that the building regulations and publicly-owned infrastructure (so often attacked by free market fanatics as barriers to progress and growth) have saved the day here.

Miles said...

I have to disagree with the first two comments because the reason why there was no loss of life as compared to earthquakes in Haiti and China is because most New Zealand urban dwellers don't live in inner city apartment buildings. We live in single story wooden dwellings in the suburbs and have always done so. Also it's in the selfish interests of the market to build houses that can withstand an earthquake: earthquake vulnerable homes don't sell.

Don Franks said...

Good post David.

The thought in your first paragraph occurred to me too, although its easier for me to philosophise with nothing in our place cracked, the water still on and no aftershocks waiting in the shadows. Hang in there.

David said...

I agree with Miles that our flexible wood framed houses should take some of the credit, (despite recent concerns in the UK that they’re a fire hazard See: ). In most cases it’s masonry that has gone. Brick walls and chimneys have collapsed, houses have moved off their foundations.

But I can’t agree with Mile’s statement, “Also it’s in the selfish interests of the market to build houses that can withstand an earthquake: earthquake vulnerable homes don’t sell.”

This would only be true if builders were ever held account for the strength of their houses and if the average house buyer could tell the difference between a sound and unsound house. The leaky building crisis suggests neither of these things is true. In fact it’s the regulators, not the builders who are carrying the can.

Perversely, it could be argued that it’s in the interest of the building industry to build houses that will require a lot of repair – not that I think that’s the case here.

In Haiti, as I understand it, much of the loss of life came in the slum / suburbs on the out-skirts of town. These slums were built in the most free market way possible, that is, with no regulations at all. Concrete block was the common and fatal building material.

It’s very common here too, especially in one and two story units. In fact I was in a partially concrete block building when the quake hit.

Yesterday, I saw one reinforced concrete block fence completely collapsed. I shudder to think what would have happened if it had been the wall of someone’s house. But my friend’s 40 year old concrete block houses, which are just round the corner from that wall, stayed up. I’m guessing the difference was the foundations and piles and the truck loads of compacted fill that was required, by regulators, when they were built.

But it wasn’t just the slums in Haiti that collapsed. It was also major government buildings. This has not happened here. The big concrete buildings in the central city, like the hotels, stayed up. If they hadn’t people would be dead. Amazingly, the civil defence HQ is in the new art gallery with it’s glass curtain wall!

What’s the difference between the 1970s Ministry of Works brutalist police station and council HQ and the Haitian Presidential palace or UN HQ? I’m confident it’s earth quake regulations which meant if these building weren’t up to scratch when they were build 40 years ago, they’ve been strengthened since. This never happened in Haiti, because the country’s been plundered and impoverished by the West and the dictators we backed.

aberfoyle said...

The construction of Nz buidings is a credit to those involved, and the evidence is evident especialy in the more recent high rises that came through the quake with little or no damage.As for the lack of fatalities truely amazing, understanding the time of the quake.

It is interesting though to see those recenttly constructed homes, those founded on concrete pads, to have suffered considerable damage.It would be of interest seeing if they at time of construction had the pad reinforced with steel.

As for Haiti,a disaster that could have been lessend by government investing in infrastructure maintenance,rather than the bleeding of the country and its people by off shore exployters,corrupt officials, and corrupt politicians.