Recovery operations are still underway and looking increasingly grim in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the city’s second major earthquake in six months left over 140 dead and scores more wounded and missing. As always, people remain SAFE’s first concern and our condolences go out to those who have lost their loved ones, colleagues and homes.
But as the dust settles in New Zealand’s second largest city, we will also get a clearer picture of the toll on its built history and cultural heritage. As Prime Minister John Key said in an interview with TV3 News just a day after the 6.3-magnitude tremor hit, Christchurch will be “a very different city” once rebuilding efforts begin.
Museums Aotearoa has been updating their blog with word from museums across Canterbury and they have relayed some good news. Firstly, they have not reported any museum staff or volunteers lost. They have also reported that the Canterbury Museum, which was feared to have suffered damage, has been declared “structurally sound.” It houses, among other things, a 130-year-old collection of natural history specimens and artifacts from Antarctic expeditions. It also lies in one of the worst-hit areas, Christchurch’s central business district (CBD).
Other museums and historic places have not fared so well. The former municipal chambers building, which opened in 1887 and has housed exhibitions for the past decade, had been closed to the public after suffering major damage during September’s even bigger, but far less violent quake. Museums Aotearoa reported that the building has now been completely ruined.
Major cultural landmarks, including the city’s provincial chambers (built in 1865), The Press building and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament have also suffered significant damage. And images of the century-old Anglican cathedral, pictured above, have circulated widely, showing how the church has lost its iconic spire and part of its tower – not to mention that authorities fear up to 22 people have been lost in its rubble.
As the New Zealand Herald reported, the cathedral “has become a symbol of the city’s anguish,” but Mayor Bob Parker is confident that the massive stone church will be rebuilt and that its restoration will become an important symbol of the city’s resilience. “There is some discussion that that is a building we could rebuild brick by brick, stone by stone. We need to find some symbols like that,” he told reporters this week.
Lyttelton, a colonial harbor town just 12 km southeast of Christchurch, was devastated by the Feb. 22 earthquake and its 1876 Timeball Station – one of just five working timeball stations in the world – was among the many historic buildings laid to waste.
Architect and conservator Ian Bowman, who will travel to Christchurch next week for several restoration projects, has told me that he heard the storage facility for the Timeball Station museum was flattened. It housed all display material and collection items that were moved from the main museum after the September earthquake damaged the station. It remains unclear if anything has been or can be salvaged.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust is working to provide advice on how to approach historic buildings damaged by the quake, according to its website, and it has urged against the “unnecessary clearing or removal of heritage buildings or structures.” NZHPT chief executive, Bruce Chapman, had this to say about Christchurch’s damaged cultural sites in a statement released Friday
These buildings are much-loved, iconic landmarks that helped to tell Christchurch’s story and have made the city the special place that it is and what locals and visitors readily identify with.
There is no easy answer to whether Christchurch can rebuild its damaged historic buildings. Once the full extent of damage is known then discussions can begin on how Christchurch can rebuild, what buildings it can retain and the costs involved.
But that’s a conversation that no one is having right now. Like everyone else our thoughts are firmly on the safety of people in the city, and with the remaining rescue and recovery work.
Photo courtesy: news.com.au, AFP