The clock struck 1250 hours 22 February 2011. Under a grey overcast sky all seemed to be normal. People going about their lunch time business – shops, restaurants, tourist attractions all plying a brisk business.
I don’t need to tell you what happened a minute later. The moment 1251 hours that day is seared into the minds of Chrischurch folk in much the same way the moment the first tower came down on 11 September 2001; the moment the tsunami struck in southeast Asia on 26 December 2004. Long after the last building is repaired, the shadow of that moment will cast itself over the city. It will eventually fade into history and from most people’s collective memories.
For months Christchurch people were the objects of unimaginable levels of sympathy, compassion, support for which words and deeds cannot repay on their own. But responding in kind cometh the hour of hazardous reckoning for another New Zealand town might.
Two years on, those attitudes are hardening. In many ways it is not surprising. The emergency phase of the disaster ended in May 2011, though it seems like a period of limbo has overtaken the city since. Insurance companies, petrified by three hugely expensive natural disasters in three months – Toowoomba’s flash flooding in January; Christchurch’s earthquake in February; Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in March – have shown undue reluctance to pay out if they can avoid it. The Earthquake Commission is over its head in the paperwork residue of visiting people in their munted homes to assess the damage. The frustration is mounting with officialdom – with Christchurch City Council; the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority; the Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee in particular.
There have been protests. The lack of transparency in the bureaucracy many people have found nauseating. People with children have suffered particularly as no rational or compassionate person willingly lets a child suffer. But a form of post-earthquake poverty is starting to emerge in Christchurch, watched closely N.G.O.’s and charities with growing alarm, but apparently not yet causing concern in the Ministry’s of Health, or Social Development.
The closure, merging, or relocation of schools – the centre points of communities – is causing significant angst as well. Many schools were damaged during the earthquakes and have had to share facilities with other schools. For example Avonside Girls High School moved to Burnside High School, and used their facilities when Burnside was not there. Redcliffs School has moved indefinitely to Van Asch College for the Deaf because its grounds in Redcliffs are in a high risk rockfall zone. On Monday this week, the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, announced her interim decisions on which ones would close, and which would stay open. This hugely botched process has led to a considerable cooling of relations between schools and the Ministry of Education.
Few doubt, regardless of which side of the fence they fall on, that 2013 will be the year that makes or breaks the Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee. The enormous, unforgiving beast that is the Earthquake Recovery portfolio could be Mr Brownlee’s crowning joy in the annals of history, or it could be largely responsible for his demise as a Minister of the Crown.