Five years is not a long time. It's long enough to put something in the past but not long enough for memories to dim. Five years is most of their lives for many of the children in Christchurch who remember the earthquake. They have now felt hundreds of earthquakes, some as frightening as the one that occurred last Sunday. But when they talk of "the earthquake" it is the one the struck five years ago tomorrow, shortly after noon on a sunny summer day.
Abbie Walls, one of those who recall it in our pages today, was in the City Mall with her mother, going to the dentist. When the ground began to heave and the buildings shook and debris started to fall, her mother used her body to shield the 6-year-old. When they were dragged from the rubble, Abbie was taken to hospital, her mother was thought to be dead.
Now 11, Abbie remembers waking from her coma in the Starship. She remembers visiting her mother's hospital room and seeing her on a breathing machine. Memories such as that stay with you for life.
They say children are resilient,and what has not killed you makes you stronger. These children sound very strong. Abbie says, "I always used to feel emotional and sad and [thought] I'd never be happy. But now I'm always happy."
Molly and Matilda Maynard, now aged 8 and 7, will be taking flowers tomorrow to the grave of their mother, killed in the collapse of the PGC building. They talk to her in their prayers. Said Molly: "We tell her we can't wait to see her in heaven when we die, probably a long, long way away."
Christchurch looks, and mostly sounds, resilient today. It would be easy to exaggerate the number of unresolved insurance claims, as perhaps some are doing. The rebuild has passed its peak years. Many thousands of houses have been repaired or replaced, drains and sewers have been restored. Roads in some areas are still showing the signs of ground that has not yet settled.
The red zone - when land was left unsuitable for rebuilding - has been cleared for riverside parks. The clifftops have few houses left on the edge, though the barrier of containers still lines the roads beneath in case more boulders come down. The CBD has passed the demolition phase and attractive new buildings are appearing. They are high buildings, too. Predictions that Christchurch people would not trust multi-storey buildings again have proved unduly pessimistic.
The city has a new spirit. It is talking about the "old Christchurch" and the "new Christchurch". The earthquake has changed more than its built character. It is developing a new character grounded in a shared experience. It is strong.