Deja vu but different: how the fall of one New Zealand city helped save another

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Deja vu but different: how the fall of one New Zealand city helped save another
A man rides past a destroyed church in Christchurch, New Zealand /© Hannah Johnston/Getty Images

Infrastructure became a national talking point after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake devastated Christchurch in 2011, but were lessons learned? At three minutes past midnight on 14 November last year, Wellington found out

There was an uneasy sense of recognition as Mike Gillooly, Christchurch’s chief resilience officer, helicoptered over the township of Kaikoura, the epicentre of New Zealand’s latest major earthquake, last November.

Railway tracks had been hauled off their foundations and lay sprawled across roads. Massive landslides entirely covered the main highway, cutting off access to this small seaside settlement on the east of the country’s South Island. Along the coast, the seabed had been pushed up almost two metres, exposing shellfish clinging to previously submerged rocks. Inland, Gillooly could see massive cracks that had appeared along fault lines running through hilly farmland.

Thousands were displaced as emergency services responded to the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck shortly after midnight. The country’s capital, Wellington, which lies almost 100 miles north of Kaikoura near the southernmost point of the North Island, was badly affected.

“It was deja vu, but it was different,” Gillooly says. “No two scenarios are the same.”

More than five years earlier, on 22 February 2011, Gillooly had been on the fourth floor of the Christchurch civic building at midday when another earthquake struck. It was shallow and directly under the city, with a magnitude of 6.3. It left 185 people dead, devastating both rural communities and the city’s central business district.

“The scale of response was massive,” Gillooly recalls. “And the response transitioned into recovery very quickly.”

Five years on, huge tracts of Christchurch’s suburban land have been deemed unliveable, vast networks of underground infrastructure is still being replaced and the central city is still rebuilding. […]

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