Remembering Christchurch a decade on: 'I would have liked to have been in a much happier place - I don't think our family is'

A Christchurch father says his family still hasn't got the closure they hoped for, 10 years on from the death of his son in the 2011 earthquake. 

It comes as New Zealand pauses to remember the disaster that rocked a city and a nation to its core a decade ago to this day.

It was February 22, 2011, at 12:51pm, the city was shaken while people were at work, school, and going about their daily lives.

The violent magnitude-6.3 tremor killed 185 people. Parts of the city, including its iconic Christ Church Cathedral, were destroyed.

Bruce McEachen lost his son Matti, 25, in the quake. He was killed by falling debris trying to flee the building of the Southern Ink tattoo parlour he worked in. 

In 2018, the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal found property manager Christopher Chapman failed to meet industry standards by not informing Southern Ink of safety issues after the 2010 earthquake, but could not prove disgraceful conduct and was found not guilty.

Bruce McEachen says his son still had so much to accomplish.

"He was a wonderful guy - he had a very old soul and I think he would have done a lot of very clever things by now that we will just never get to see."

Matti is missed dearly by his family and McEachen says that's exacerbated by no-one being held accountable for his death.

"It still feels a little bit like groundhog day - I don't think we've got the degree of closure we would have wanted to have after 10 years and a lot of that's got to do with the lack of accountability."

McEachan told Newshub something as simple as an apology might just be the thing to give the family closure.

"It was an earthquake - things do happen - but even a simple apology would probably have helped."

But it's an apology the family hasn't received.

"We've had nothing, at all," McEachan says. "It's hard. It's 10 years, 10 birthdays and there's a total lack of accountability.

"I would have liked to have thought, by now, the healing process would have been a long way through and we wouldn't still be sitting here, 10 years on, still failing to understand why there was no accountability.

"I would have liked to have been in a much happier place 10 years on from the earthquakes and I don't think our family is."

He questions whether lessons have been learned from that day a decade ago.

"If you were to have a look at it - 185 people died in the Christchurch earthquake and, of that 185, probably 140 were avoidable."

Cantabrians, including the McEachan family, will gather at the National Earthquake Memorial in Christchurch on Monday, to remember those who lost their lives in the CTV and PGC buildings, as well as on buses, other parts of the CBD and the suburbs. 

A minute's silence will be observed at 12:51pm - a moment so many people saw things they will never forget.

Matti McEachan.
Matti McEachan. Photo credit: File

'A tragedy unfolding'

February's quake was just less than six months after another magnitude-7.1 tremor and life was just beginning to return to normal.

On February 23, the day after the quake, then-Prime Minister John Key described it as "death and destruction on a dreadful scale". 

"New Zealanders have woken to a tragedy unfolding in the great city of Christchurch," he told reporters.

"There is no reason that can make sense of this event, [and] no words that can spare our pain.

"We are witnessing the havoc caused by a violent and ruthless act of nature."  

When the quake struck, city Mayor Lianne Dalziel, who at the time was the MP for Christchurch East, was in her electorate office in the suburb of New Brighton.

"It is the only earthquake I have literally got under a table for," she recalls.

The earthquake, she says, can only be described as frightening. "It was a terrifying time.

"I always think of February 22 as the day that changed my life forever and I guess it changed the lives of so many others.

"It had just such a big impact on our city." 

But a decade on, she tells Newshub the city has made huge progress.

"It's still a mixed feeling out there because there were people that were more affected than others.

"We have taken a lot of time to address some pretty fundamental issues as far as our infrastructure goes.

"I think that, overall, people can see the real sense of possibility and opportunity that the city is brimming with."

The way the city united after the earthquakes, Dalziel says, will stay with her forever.

She says that unity has put Christchurch in a good position moving forward.

"That's what I'm most proud of - the way we can actually work together as people when the need arises."

'Well on our way'

While Christchurch is still being regenerated a decade on, several milestones have been reached in recent years. In December, for the first time since that fateful day in 2011, there was no longer a large hole in the front of the Christ Church cathedral. A 13 metre high and 18-tonne steel frame was craned into the front of the iconic landmark - described as a huge moment for the city. 

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson says she believes Christchurch will soon have the facilities it deserves.

They've started to pop up slowly. In September 2019, the $60 million Riverside Market opened, which followed the opening of The Crossing - an enormous retail precinct home to international retail giants such as H&M.

"We will have a central city that is world-class - at the moment we've got Riverside and offerings on The Terrace and The Crossing - we're well on our way," Watson told Newshub. 

She says other anchor projects on the way, such as the in-progress convention centre, will round off the amenities already in place. 

However, Watson isn't wanting to compare the city to what it was like before the quake. She wants Christchurch to be its own unique urban landscape.

"No other city would measure their success based on what they had 10 years ago - that's not a sign of progress," she says.

"We need to be setting new aspirations for our city and our region, and really striving to achieve those.

"You hear people say, 'we want to be the next Melbourne'. No, we don't.

"We want to be our own city and we want to really shape a future city that is not compared to any other."