I have already described the life and times of the Christchurch red zone cordon, and the trials and tribulations of all three services of the New Zealand Defence Force – Army, Navy and Airforce – personnel manning the entry and exit points. The photo essay that is this post is modest, final thanks to the Defence Force personnel from all over New Zealand, from Australia and from Singapore who came to help during the earthquake emergency and the recovery.
There were times when the cordon looked more like a flimsy version of the Berlin Wall. There were only one or two entry/exit points into the Central Business District red zone and they were heavily guarded by at one time or another Army, Navy, Airforce and Police or some combination thereof. Due to the high level of danger in the red zone and the many otherwise unprotected premises, anyone caught for no good reason in the red zone was liable to immediate arrest.
The job of manning the cordon did not always go smoothly. Sometimes public frustration with the officialdom of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the Earthquake Commission would boil over, as it did on a couple of occasions where protests were held at the cordon that got heated. Other times acts of nature caused problems, during the life of the cordon there were two magnitude 6.0+ events, a host of magnitude 5.0+ tremors as well as heavy rain and snow fall events to keep even the haridest personnel on their toes – if for no reason than to keep warm!
At it’s maxiumum, several square kilometres of Christchurch were cordoned off. Each reduction would be announced in The Press a few days before it happened and briefly become the latest attraction in Christchurch. Some of the reductions would be followed by road closures as surrounding buildings were readied for demolition, or if there had been a significant seismic event, cordoned off for the public’s safety. Opening up the one way street system appeared to be a major priority to ease traffic congestion, and in time Barbadoes Street (south bound), followed by Montreal Street (north bound), Salisbury Street (east bound) and St. Asaph Street (west bound)were opened.
The fences that were erected around unstable buildings and to protect people from rock fall hazards will be around for awhile longer yet. Some of the fencing for rock falls might be there for years until either geotechnical studies conclude it is safe to remove them, or hazardous rocks are removed under controlled conditions or there is another tremor which – heaven forbid – might start the problem anew. Before it was sucessfully brought down, the Hotel Grand Chancellor which was the tallest building in Christchurch, had its own special red zone because of its height – 27 stories.
At the end of May 2013 it was announced that the cordon would be lifted by the end of June. On each Friday in the month of June 2013 the remaining manned cordon progressively shrunk. At 1500 hours on 28 June 2013 the last check point, at the Colombo Street-Gloucester Street intersection opened to the public. On 30 June 2013 at 1435 hours or thereabouts to loud applause from several hundred residents the Defence Force chief, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones declared the Defence Force dismissed from cordon duties.
Christchurch is now a free city. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority will remain in effect until 2016.