It’s been another extraordinary week to really test even the hardiest of people here in Canterbury.
When I arrived to start my new job as Chief Executive of CERA at 7am on Monday I knew it was going to be a challenging and very busy first week. But I had no idea exactly what the hours ahead would bring.
When the first earthquake hit at 1pm, I was with staff on the 3rd floor of the Papanui building where CERA was based. Like thousands of others around the city we were badly shaken by the strong quake and subsequently gathered outside in our evacuation area to check on one another. When I was confident everyone was accounted for and saw staff were looking after one another, I headed into the city to meet with City Council and emergency response staff. While we were outside the Art Gallery discussing the situation around the city, the 6.3 quake struck. It was a terrifying experience for people there and others around the city and region who weren’t thinking something bigger was about to follow what happened at 1pm.
Fortunately most workers had already been evacuated from the Red Zone and while there were some casualties around Christchurch, we were very lucky there was no loss of life.
However, Monday’s events have brought even more difficulty, frustration and pain, particularly for those in the worst affected suburbs who were still struggling badly from the September and February earthquakes.
During the week, some staff and I went to meet with the residents’ associations for Bexley and Horseshoe Lake to hear from them and talk about communicating the decisions that will be made about homes and land. We’re very mindful of what the needs of the community will be when we’re in a position to let them know outcomes. The feedback from the associations about how that communication could work for them was extremely valuable and we will certainly be taking it on board.
While this has been a long and frustrating process for many, I can assure you that at no time has CERA eased up on the tremendous amount of work required to finalise decisions. The events of this week have not only reinforced our resolve and commitment to do this as quickly as possible, but to ensure we get it right for people. Even with some of the homes of our own staff again badly damaged or uninhabitable, they haven’t dropped the ball for a moment. While we can’t occupy our offices due to some damage from Monday, staff quickly started working from alternative sites or locations so no time was lost. The dedication and sheer determination I’ve seen from my team this week has been fantastic.
Of course Monday’s quakes also took a further toll on buildings in the central city. We’ve had significant additional damage to about 147 buildings and about 100 require urgent demolition.
What happened within the Red Zone on Monday reinforced the message we’ve consistently given – it’s a very dangerous and volatile environment. We’ve understood the desire of people to get back in and see the heart of their city, but we hope now you can also understand our very cautious and managed approach to access. For us, safety has been, and will always remain, paramount.
While it has been an incredibly tough and trying week, I’ve never once regretted taking on this job. I feel very lucky to be leading the work at CERA that is going to help this city and surrounds recover from nine months of hell and move on to better things. It’s a tough road ahead, but progress is being made and we’re going to get there together.