Recently I travelled to Christchurch, New Zealand on a international study tour for the purposes of studying the Christchurch earthquake that hit the city and surrounds in 2010 and 2011. As part of the tour we visited a number of areas which were significantly hit and damaged by the quake. One of those places was the suburb of Bexley. At the time of the quake Bexley was a newly established estate of about five years old and was filled with new homes, families and children.
For those who aren’t aware earthquakes are not just severe shaking of the ground, in addition quakes cause liquefaction, flooding and land damage. In Bexley, in addition to the damage caused by the earthquake and extreme shaking of the ground and buildings, homes were inundated with liquefaction and land significantly damaged. In response to the significant impact in some areas in and around Christchurch the Crown declared areas ‘red zones’, meaning that the Crown would purchase properties within the red zone because these properties have been deemed unsafe to live in and not suitable for future use as residential areas.
I write this blog as a Mum and write this post thinking about the earthquake and the damage that occurred in the eyes of Mum looking down on Bexley.
Any disaster whether caused by nature or caused by man is just that a disaster affecting many people mentally, physically and financially. In most cases while recovery may take some time for individuals, for most it occurs and they move on in some form or another. The impact of disaster will stay with them forever but in some way they return to work, reunite with loved ones, get support to rebuild financially, physically, mentally and in rebuilding damaged property. In the case of families and individuals living in Bexley following the 2011 earthquake, recovery was that much harder when they were told that their properties were no longer safe to reside there, permanently!
When I visited Bexley I was able to walk around the streets and it was a very eerie and sad feeling. I was walking amongst rubble, abandoned houses that for some looked fine while others showed signs of damage. Then there were the blocks where houses had been demolished and all that remained was rubble and the concrete slab where once the house stood. There were abandoned playgrounds that were in disrepair and damaged by the quake. Where once children played while their parents looked on happily now remained a broken play area that was no longer shaped by happiness, laughter and fun….it was an eerie and sad reminder of what was once there…
I try to imagine what these Mums would have been through….one minute life is great, with a family, children, a beautiful home surrounded by other families, life is good…then at 12.51pm on 22 February, 2011 your world is overtaken by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that would change your life forever. Following the quake your only instinct is to ensure the safety of your children and your family. Then you focus on the damage to your home, belongings and your surrounds. But do you expect that in time you will be told by the government that what is your home can no longer be, no! That was the reality for many families and individuals living in Bexley. Yes for those who had insurance they received some money from the Crown (government) and from their insurance company for their house and land but for most this was nowhere near enough to payout their mortgage. For those without insurance, there was no money! Yes they were found houses to relocate to, but these were not their homes, for most they were someone else’s homes. They found themselves in a different suburb, environment, house. For some, most, their children had to change schools and make new friends, the commute to work was longer, on top of the trauma that the quake caused they were left without their home, indebt to a home that was no longer theirs and they had to start all over without much of a choice where.
Disasters have all sorts of affects on individuals. Most will return to, as they say, business as usual in time, while others will feel the affects of disaster physically, mentally and financially longer and for some forever. How much harder is recovery from a disaster when your home is taken from you, when life can’t return to normal because you can’t return to your home, neighbourhood, ‘business as usual’????
I am not saying that in this instance the government were wrong in declaring Bexley a ‘red zone’ and I know there where people who lost a whole lot more than property, because after seeing the damage for myself, they were right but when I think about being a Mum with a mental illness I can’t help but think about the risk these families face mentally and the impact this quake will have on them forever.