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Rising from the Rubble by Michael Ardagh and Joanne Deely.


Today is the eighth anniversary of the second and most devastating of Christchurch’s two major earthquakes, both of which came in quick succession.


The first earthquake, centred near Darfield, west of Christchurch, struck in the wee small hours of September 2010. It measured 7.1. The effects were widely felt with wide-spread damage to infrastructure.


Six months later – at noon, when roads and streets were choked with people going about their business - the second earthquake struck. This time it was a 6.3 aftershock from the previous event.


Its epicentre, near Lyttleton, was closer to the city centre, resulting in the collapse of multi-story buildings and 181 confirmed deaths. The CTV building was the worst affected with the loss of 115 lives.


Christchurch would never be the same again. Most of the landmarks in the inner city were felled, if not during the quake, after when damage from the earthquake was assessed. Everywhere you looked streets were torn up, and liquefaction oozed through every surface, houses were broken, lives forever changed.


Anyone who has tried to negotiate the confused maze of one way streets in a razed city will tell you the effects are ongoing eight years later. But all of these things I have described are the tangibles. So much of the damage remains unseen. And while a great deal of the heroism in the days that followed has been well-documented - and deservedly so – the after effects and behind the scenes response to the tragic events has not.


Michael Ardagh and Joanne Deely’s book Rising from the Rubble documents the Canterbury health systems’ response to the tragedy which was both immediate and enduring. Eight years later the work is ongoing as the emotional toll continues to be counted.


But on that day, as the first of the estimated 11,000 aftershocks began to rumble through the city; while plumes of smoke and dust from rubble were still visible in the sky, health professionals swung into action. Many of them worked in damaged buildings; some were grappling with missing family members, and most were yet to return to assess their own damaged homes.


It is no exaggeration to say that the conditions in which they worked were hell on earth. Patients were being evacuated, equipment was missing or damaged. It was chaos; and throughout the chaos that ensued, medial personnel continued to assess and triage patients.


“In addition to dealing with the distress caused by the earthquakes, the specialist mental health teams encountered people with serious mental health illnesses that required monitoring and ongoing treatment…..Individuals sentenced to home detention had no homes to go to… others with drug and alcohol addiction lost access to their addictive substances…the dominant issues facing the majority of the population were psycho-social in origin”.


Eight years later the damage is still being felt. Post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological traumas are on the rise. How did the Canterbury Health Board cope with this unprecedented event? How has it rebuilt? What is the future for crisis funding?


This book documents a catastrophic event and it will answer many of the questions that have since arisen about how we, in the shaky isles, need to prepare for the inevitable.


Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Canterbury University Press. $39.99.


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