“I truly believed that the world was coming to the end,” says Robin as he tells me about his experience in the February 2011 earthquake that struck Christchurch.
“The noise. The dust. Buildings collapsing. Power lines falling onto the street. Glass raining down. It reminded me of the 9/11 news footage.
“I knew I was going to die, I just didn’t know how. And I really did think that maybe an asteroid had hit the earth and the world was done.”
His voice is strained. He’s having a difficult time telling his story.
“I lost everything. My house. My business. My assets. Everything.”
Robin is a tour operator. Before the earthquake he owned a fleet of vehicles including a double-decker bus.
“All gone now. Had to sell what was left of my fleet to pay my employees.”
But he’s not bitter about that. It’s nobody’s fault.
He now uses his personal vehicle to drive around Christchurch and point out areas that were hardest hit. And if I hadn’t seen it first-hand I wouldn’t have believed it.
Entire residential areas were destroyed. Hundreds of houses now abandoned and “red carded.”
Red cards placed on a property mean that the house is unsafe for occupation and must be destroyed. Yellow cards means the house requires significant repair work but can be saved. Green cards do not mean that the house is OK for occupation, it means that the natural gas and electricity is confirmed off and that it’s safe to be inspected.
Brick walls have crumbed. Chimneys have collapsed. Foundations rattled so hard they have turned to dust. Solid soil liquefied, so much so that some houses sank. In one case, a boulder rolled downhill and went right through a house. Downtown office towers now lean precariously. Once level streets now punish suspension systems with new bumps and dips. And everywhere, buildings new and old are no longer fit and await the wrecker’s ball.
And 185 people died.
Conservative estimates suggest it may be more than 20 years to rebuild and repair, assuming there aren’t any more significant seismic rumblings.
And yet, these strong people are moving forward.
Garishly painted shipping containers have been converted into downtown retail space called Re:START. Coffee shops, shoe stores, tourist memorabilia and even an “adults only” store. They’re all making a go of it.
Industrial parks now house accountants, lawyers, dental and doctor’s offices.
Everywhere, hope amongst the ruins. These are strong people. They refuse to be defeated.