Ten years on, New Zealand’s Christchurch remembers 185 earthquake victims

A memorial service was held on Monday in New Zealand’s second largest city of Christchurch to mark the 10th anniversary of a violent and destructive earthquake that claimed 185 lives spanning more than 20 nationalities, including 24 Chinese students.

A 6.3-magnitude quake struck the city on Feb. 22, 2011, with a depth of only 4 km. Then-Prime Minister John Key described the disaster as “New Zealand’s darkest day.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the earthquake and aftershocks affected people “in complex and diverse ways.”

“The toll could not have been more significant, and daily reminders made it harder — a fractured landscape, aftershocks, struggling friends and neighbors, and children with deep and unseen scars,” she told the memorial service.

“Ten years on there will be people still living their daily lives with the long shadow of that day,” Ardern said.

Hundreds of people with solemn faces threw flowers in the Avon River, or placed bunches of flowers at the wall of the Canterbury National Earthquake Memorial in Christchurch’s central city where many buildings had crumbled in a flash during the quakes ten years ago.

People hugged each other, people who lost their loved ones in the quakes were sobbing.

At the ceremony, the names of the quake victims were read out by people of different nationalities. Three Chinese girls read out the names of the Chinese students killed by the quake.

International rescue teams arrived within 48 hours after the Feb. 22 quake. The Chinese government dispatched a 10-person search and rescue team which arrived 36 hours after the quake.

The earthquake and aftershocks caused substantial destruction to Christchurch in 2011. Statistics showed more than 1,200 commercial buildings were destroyed, and around 90 percent of residential houses were damaged to varying degrees.

It is estimated that the total cost for Christchurch’s reconstruction will exceed 40 billion NZ dollars (29 billion U.S. dollars), which equals approximately 10 percent of New Zealand’s gross domestic product (GDP).

After the quake, the city quickly started reconstruction. A number of Chinese enterprises also started to invest in Christchurch. Christchurch City Councilor Jimmy Chen cited the Huadu International Construction Group as an example, telling Xinhua that over the past five years, the company has played a key role in Christchurch’s reconstruction.

According to the Christchurch city center’s reconstruction plan, there are 16 key projects, including a brand-new bus hub, world-class cricket stadium and an “innovation area” that have been put into use and more and more companies and stores have returned to the city center.

Restoration work on the Christchurch Cathedral began last year, seven years after it was damaged in the disaster. The 132-year-old cathedral withstood violent earthquakes in 1881, 1888, 1922, 1901 and Sept. 4, 2010. The restoration will cost about 108 million NZ dollars (79 million U.S. dollars).