A time to remember and a time to press ahead

For some it will feel an age ago; for others it will be like yesterday; and there are those who will experience a curious mixture of both.

For those who lived through it, and for a stunned country watching, the February 22, 2011, earthquake in Christchurch is an indelible memory.

It took just 20 seconds for the quake to wipe out 185 lives and leave the country's second biggest city on its knees.

Two years on, the scenes of chaos and destruction still seem surreal.

Yesterday was a time to remember those lost, to comfort their families and friends, and to thank those who pitched in to help strangers, sometimes putting their own lives at risk.

It's a time to remember people like Christchurch City Council draughtsman Joe Pohio who stopped to grab the hand of a woman knocked off her feet in a central shopping arcade and was himself killed by falling masonry.

The woman he helped made a full recovery and has just had her second daughter.

It's a time to marvel at survivors like Olivia Cruickshank and her 6-year-old daughter Abbie, crushed under a concrete column. Abbie was taken to hospital where she beat the odds to make a full recovery; her mother was assumed dead for two hours before the twitch of her foot was seen by a construction worker.

Two years on she is still battling the physical effects, but is slowly getting back to normality.

It could be a metaphor for the recovery of the city itself.

Progress is being made in the biggest and most expensive construction project the country has seen, but the consensus is that it is still too slow.

Much of the hard yards has been done repairing the shattered infrastructure, such as the sewerage system and roading.

More than 900 central city buildings have been demolished but an unknown number still have to be knocked down, and few construction projects have started.

That makes Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's relabelling of the city centre from the red zone to the rebuild zone sound more like wishful thinking, but there are at least signs of movement.

There is also a blueprint with significant government clout behind it that promises to create a vibrant new heart for Christchurch.

It also promises to provide plenty of job opportunities for Nelson firms. Some are already on the ground but others are picking it will be another year before the rebuild is in full swing.

It's in the harder hit suburbs that the movement seems imperceptible to homeowners slogging through insurance and Earthquake Commission issues.

As one put it yesterday: "You ask about your entitlement . . . and you don't get any more answers. You ring up and you ring up. You just wait. What else do you do?"

Insurers agree that progress is not good enough in the residential sector, but say the groundwork has been done, and work will accelerate.

They also point out that everyone dealing with the quake aftermath is in uncharted territory given the unprecedented scale of the damage and the complexity of some claims.

Both are valid points, but two years on residents are also entitled to feel it's time for action. A shiny new central city is one thing, but until the future of their homes is secure, it will be difficult for residents to put the quake behind them.

The Nelson Mail