Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Quake city united

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Family members grieve in the Hagley Park service one year on. Photo / Getty Images
Family members grieve in the Hagley Park service one year on. Photo / Getty Images

Most of us can probably remember where we were when we heard Christchurch had been hit by another earthquake - and this time they hadn't dodged a bullet.

Almost immediately, reports started coming in from the broken city that people had been killed and many more were believed to be seriously injured. Buses and cars had been crushed under collapsing shop fronts; people were trapped in buildings that had gone from seven storeys to two in a matter of seconds.

I was due to meet a friend for lunch at 1pm in Grey Lynn. She turned up ashen-faced after hearing the breaking news on the radio. "It's Christchurch," she said, "and it's really bad".

We abandoned lunch and headed for my place where we watched the scenes of devastation with growing fear and incredulity. Her dad and sister lived there. Her husband was at a conference there and until she made contact with them, we feared the worst.

I went to work that night on the radio and throughout the night terrified Cantabrians and worried friends and relatives from around the country phoned in, desperate for information.

Many Cantabs were without power and they sat in the dark, literally and metaphorically. Most of them had no idea of the extent of the damage but I'm not sure they would have been able to process the scenes the rest of the country were seeing on television anyway.

They were busy trying to survive, creating a space in the chaos of their homes where their families would have shelter.

And now a year on, the city is struggling to get back on its feet. Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee spoke of his most fervent wish for Christchurch being to see a skyline filled with cranes as the city begins rebuilding.

The memorial service was lovely. I was there for it, with 20,000 Cantabrians - a number that swelled between 12.30pm and 1pm when office workers and school students turned up to pay their respects.

A number of residents told me that they wouldn't attend the official memorial. It was still too raw, they said. They were worried about being in big crowds in case the worst happened. They wanted to remember friends and loved ones in their own way.

The roll call of the dead was chilling - it took 13 minutes to read every name.

Those who had been badly injured weren't forgotten either. A short video played at the end of the service, featuring optimistic, hopeful residents talking of their dreams for a new Christchurch.

There were thinly veiled references from a number of speakers to the need to work together, to be transparent in decision-making, to not allow differences of opinion to divert people from the incredible job that will be building a new Christchurch.

A number of speakers also mentioned their gratitude to the rest of the country for supporting them in their darkest days.

There's a long, long way to go before Christchurch is back on its feet, but seeing the way the community came together on Wednesday and knowing the reserves of character and spirit the province has to draw from, it will be a city to be proud of in the future.

- Herald on Sunday

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