Christchurch Cathedral. Photo: AP
I flew to Christchurch this morning. The first thing I saw when I walked into the departure lounge was a Chinese family being interviewed by a camera crew. As I walked closer, the father had his head down. He was crying. It hit me hard. It's so easy to look at everything on the news and get desensitised to what's happening because we're inundated by atrocities on a near daily basis, but it is so different to see it in the flesh. When I arrived at my family home, my Dad was getting ready to drive over to Jaime Gilbert's parents' house to discuss funeral arrangements. Jaime was one of the first four deceased Cantabrians to have their names released in the media. He was working in a bar in the CBD when the quake hit, and was killed instantly by a wall that came crashing down. Dad is MCing his funeral on Tuesday.
My cousin Nikau moved to Christchurch last Saturday to start first year at Canterbury University. She was by herself at home when the quake hit and was so traumatised by the experience that she immediately booked a flight back to Auckland. I sat with her today as she packed her stuff at the university hostel and walked out, leaving her five bedroom flat empty except for one girl, an international student from India who will now live there alone.
I dropped her off at Christchurch Airport, which felt like Heathrow International. According to what I've heard, 10,000 people are leaving the city every day, and 19 new flights have been added daily to cart them away. Queues to check in to flights were hundreds long.
One of the biggest problems for people trying to leave Christchurch is that the flights are all full – not necessarily because passengers are in seats, but because travellers who were supposed to have flown in or out of Christchurch have chosen not to, without cancelling their tickets. On Nikau's flight out, there were 17 passengers who didn't show up. On the one previous, there were 25. If you're not going to fly, cancel your ticket.
I ran into furniture designer Simon James who had been in town to assist his partner's family. They lost their house in the quake. Still, he said, it was better that than the other.
On one bright note, our next door neighbours here in Burnside are The Christchurch Star. The newspaper's buildings were destroyed, so they've set up a makeshift office in a staff member's house on Grahams Road. I popped my head in the door to ask if they needed any help, and they immediately put me to work writing an internal memo for staff telling them to come to the new office tomorrow if they feel like getting back into it. I'm meeting with the editor in the morning to see if I can write some stories this week.
Helen Clark's in town. Maybe I'll get to interview her.
Being here is different. It's real. People are suffering. If their houses aren't destroyed, their businesses are; if they haven't lost someone close, they've lost their livelihoods. Whole suburbs are being closed down. You can't drink the tap water. The quake cost something like one billion dollars per second, and maybe 300 lives in the process.
But the people are still smiling. Jaime Gilbert's family wants his funeral to be a celebration. It's incredible to witness. All I hope is that something good comes of all this. Who knows what, but something.
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