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What Do Charleston and Christchurch Have In Common?

In 1880’s, two port cities flourished half a world apart. Steeples jutted into their skylines, crowning architecture people traveled to see. Masonry-and-stucco buildings flanked bustling streets and green spaces.

The ground trembled. It heaved. Like a tablecloth jerked away from a feast-laden buffet.

Devastation rocked these cities. But their inhabitants were resilient. Steadfast. They reconstructed historic fabric. Knit buildings back together. Pronounced their work good.

The people of Christchurch, New Zealand repaired buildings damaged by the 1888 earthquake, but they could not know how those structures would fare more than 100 years later. They used the tools available at the time to make their city habitable, their lives bearable.

Just like the citizens of Charleston, South Carolina did in 1886.

MTM and I spent the day walking around Christchurch’s bombed-out City Center. I say ‘bombed-out’, because more than two years after a 7.3 shaker rocked the place, it still resembles a war zone. Condemned structures litter the landscape. Misshapen steel has been repurposed as art, but it bears witness to the capricious power of Nature. Rubble is everywhere.

I’m looking at downtown Charleston, should we have another 1886. Our historic fabric will be leveled. Crushed. Annihilated. And our city has no emergency plan for preparing property owners for the carnage, for dealing with the destruction, or for recreating itself.

Other than to hope we don’t have another severe earthquake.

Why will Charleston’s historic buildings suffer during a major quake?

  1. Most of the historic buildings were constructed with soft brick, pre Portland cement. The mortar in many masonry buildings is now sand.
  2. But doesn’t repointing the brick fix the mortar? NO. Repointing can only go about a half inch into a wall that’s three or four bricks thick.
  3. But won’t earthquake bolts help? NO. Earthquake bolts were used to stabilize the upper floors of buildings, but shaking occurs at the foundation. If the bottom of the building moves, bolts will not stop its collapse. In fact, they may even accelerate it.
  4. Much of the city, even in historic areas, is built on landfill, which is subject to liquefaction.


To see photos of our tour of central Christchurch, click here: Andra Watkins Tumblr

To lighten it up just a bit, click here to see Thomas’ car tour the destruction: Andra Watkins Tumblr

24 Comments Post a comment
  1. These are both cities that I’d like to visit one day. That’s my answer to your question. 😉

    [Fascinating comparison, btw. Thanks.]

    June 3, 2014
    • That’s a good answer, Ally. If you ever come to Charleston, I hope you’ll let me know.

      June 4, 2014
  2. Obviously, earthquakes are scary. There is no place to hide, especially in an urban area. Coastal people, especially in Oregon, are at risk from any locally-generated tsunami. Plans are only as good as the infrastructure. Earthquakes, like volcanoes, are a question of when, not if.

    June 3, 2014
    • Charleston’s infrastructure won’t withstand a major quake. May we all continue to be lucky and avoid massive destruction. That’s the best we can hope for.

      June 4, 2014
  3. Yes, it the big one comes here…we’re all gonna have some pain. Praying that it doesn’t…but I used to have (on my home–earthquake insurance) Condo owners assn. has it for our condos.

    June 3, 2014
    • We had earthquake on our house also. I’m just hoping we don’t have to deal with it in our lifetimes.

      June 4, 2014
  4. Oh joy, you paint such a hopeful picture. I still feel though, that like during our hurricanes, the historic buildings may fair better than the modern ones. Unfortunately a lot of modern construction is done on the cheap with no concerns for longevity or safety. And many of the weaker historic buildings have been weeded out over the past two hundred years or so.

    At least that is what I hope.

    June 3, 2014
    • I answered you by email. I wish your hopes were founded. If it ever happens, I hope they will be. Sadly, most of our historic buildings are weaker than we realize.

      June 4, 2014
  5. It is truly scary to see the devastation Nature can wreak. When it really lets rip in any one of its forms, there isn’t much that can be done about it.

    June 3, 2014
  6. I almost expected to hear something about flying cars in that first paragraph.

    June 3, 2014
    • Between being sick and sobered by my day, I haven’t had much heart to play with the car today.

      June 4, 2014
      • I’m sorry to hear that. I was actually joking because it said “18880” but I do hope today is better. 🙂

        June 4, 2014
  7. I certainly hope neither place feels the force of an earthquake again.

    June 3, 2014
    • I hope not as well, Mary. Glad you are finally all moved!!

      June 4, 2014
  8. both start with the letter c and are beautiful places i imagine. that is really scary about the possibilities –

    June 3, 2014
    • Nothing we can do, other than realize we live with the possibilities every day.

      June 4, 2014
  9. I LOVE Charleston! It is one of my favorite places.

    June 3, 2014
  10. As a general comment to everyone (though I’m not sure how many people will see it):

    I have struggled to maintain consistent internet for several days. While I am trying to respond to comments and read your stories, the inconsistency of my internet connection will render me spotty in the coming days. I will do what I can. To those of you who come here regardless of the crazy, thank you.

    June 4, 2014
  11. I don’t mind the occasional shake of the 2’s but I hope and pray we never see the destruction possible with the 6’s, 7’s and 8’s.

    June 4, 2014
  12. Wow. That’s really quite frightening. I can only hope and pray a severe one doesn’t happen.

    June 4, 2014
  13. Andra, enjoy every moment of your trip to Australia and do not worry about us. We will be fine. Heck, we might even entertain ourselves until you return. Thanks so much for reaching out to us even from the wonderful place you are at.

    June 7, 2014

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