Thoughts on a quietening city after earthquakes

I like Wellington, as a city. It is a compact place, a Saturday evening stroll through the café district an exciting wash of colour, people, smells and sound. Yet since a wave of earthquakes began sweeping over my city, nearly three weeks ago, the city centre is quiet.

Courtenay Place, Wellington 10 August 2013. I took this hand-held with my SLR, exposure time 1/6 second, ISO rating of 800. Hand held on a sixth-second exposure time. Just saying.

Courtenay Place, Wellington 10 August 2013. I took this hand-held with my SLR, exposure time 1/6 second, ISO rating of 800. Hand held on a sixth-second exposure time. Just saying.

Normally these streets would be way more crowded on a Saturday evening. Even the opening of ‘New Zealand’s Got Talent’ across the road didn’t do more than make that side of the street look normal for a Saturday night.

I took this with my phone - quality's not quite up to SLR standard.

I took this with my phone – quality’s not quite up to SLR standard.

I don’t think it’s worry about another quake. Our seismologists are good; the risk’s low.  People are philosophical about the risks and nobody I’ve spoken to is worried. No, that’s not the problem. I suspect a large part of it is the fact that half the parking buildings are closed. Other parking building owners have elevated prices to ‘highway robbery’ level in response.

Parking on the street is suicidal in the face of a vicious guilt-on-existence Council parking enforcement system – and you don’t have to be in a carpark to be ticketed. For a while they had an enforcement spy car roaming the street photographing drivers and ticketing people that included one motorist waiting to turn. I am not joking, it got to court. The Council lost, and the incident did nothing for their repute.

Another phone picture. I wonder about this building. The upper floors are a timber-frame add-on, which to me says that in a really big quake they'll perform differently from the reinforced concrete structure below.

Another phone picture. I wonder about this building. The upper floors are a timber-frame add-on, which to me says that in a really big quake they’ll perform differently from the reinforced concrete structure below.

Elsewhere, a few buildings are empty in the face of structural cracking and safety concerns. But the main new look is the profusion of bucket cranes with glaziers atop them, replacing broken windows.  I thought I’d share a few images I took.  I used my phone, so they’re not quite up to SLR standard. But hey…

Apart from the parking difficulty, people are philosophical, cheerful – quakes are part of life, sure. But not something to get wound up about. It wasn’t the ‘big one’. And it’s been a useful wake-up call. Next time, we’ll be better prepared.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

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10 comments on “Thoughts on a quietening city after earthquakes

  1. lidipiri says:

    I live in an earthquake prone city. Yes, we can prepare buildings to withstand strong quakes but really there isn’t much you can do in way of preparation. I was in Christchurch last year and as I sipped a cup of coffee the earth shook. No one batted an eye. So I guess what one can do is just go with it and not get alarmed. To see the cities emptier than usual is a bit eery.

    • Nobody in Wellington is too concerned – we get a lot of quakes. The ones just gone are among the worst in a long while, but not enough to unnerve people. I am pretty sure the main issue is lack of parking – people just can’t get into town for the moment. Curious, because the 6.5 magnitude quake that did all the damage wasn’t large by comparison with the expected ‘big one’, yet still seems to have raised questions about these buildings.

  2. It might not have been THE Big One, but those were big quakes you weathered by anyone’s standard. Too bad about the parking situation. Don’t they realize they are hurting the businesses, and thereby the economic health of the town? Greed tends to blind people, doesn’t it?

    In California they talk about THE Big One that will make our state an island that goes floating off into the ocean. I’m sure it will happen some day. Probably not in this millennium. ;-)

    • I hope not this millennium either – THAT ‘big one’ will slosh the Pacific over most of New Zealand! :-) I guess you’re right…we like to approach these things with laconic understatement here in NZ, but they were pretty severe. The biggest quake I ever experienced was as a teenager in Napier NZ, in 1980, when I saw a masonry wall curve over my head and then spring back, intact (phew!). The biggest of the swarm in Wellington was a shade less, by ‘felt intensity’ where I was. But not much, and I fully expect the damage to keep surfacing for some time as people discover things.

  3. Gosh that sounds right out of a movie!

    • Thanks. I had that sort of imagery in mind when titling this post. It’s a curious time for Wellington. Almost surreal in some ways after the worst cluster of quakes in living memory.

  4. Respecting the forces of nature is a healthy thing. Being afraid of nature and letting that fear control you is crazy. Sounds to me like NZ has the right attitude.

    • I like to think so. I was walking down one street the other day with multi story masonry fronted buildings and trolley bus wires and figured if anything major happened there would be nowhere to go. But it didn’t stop me or anybody else using the street. The main at risk buildings are identified. It is, I think, a matter of being sensible and accepting the situation following an informed assessment of the risks.

  5. […] I posted last week about the way central Wellington had quietened after the July earthquake. […]

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