“To All The Famlies of The Loved One's
Lost and injured in this terrible distar
of The BIG Earth Quake that hit
Our Love, Thoughts & Prayer are with
M & T.P.”
We found this message, written with golden ink inside a card depicting a cherub: blue butterfly wings on a field of grey clouds. The card had been slipped into a ziplock bag and taped to a beautiful bouquet of bright flowers, and the whole bundle had been left at the foot of Ashburton's East Street Fountain.
Ashburton sits an hour south of Christchurch down State Highway One. Often referred to as “Ash Vegas” for its overabundance of pokie machines and gambling pubs, the town's known for its elderly and farming populations. Until recently, the town sign read: “Welcome to Ashburton. Blessed is the Nation whose GOD is the LORD.” Even motoring works differently here: a place where many older drivers will drive around the block rather than negotiate a right-hand turn.
Ashburton is packed. The town's McDonald's, which offers not just familiar tastes but the elusive and essential wi-fi, has been close to standing room only since Tuesday. Across the road, a chemist tells me they've been flat out for the past few days. I ask if she's noticed an influx of city slickers around town and she gives me a sly wink.
Like sidewalk gawkers from an old movie, TV screens in restaurants, bars and electronics stores in Ashburton convey the latest earthquake news to gathered throngs. Even when there's no new information, there's a sense that it would be disrespectful not to watch. Many have family or friends in Christchurch; many more, ostensibly, live there themselves. Christchurch, once the place that you went when you outgrew Ashburton, has become the place you run from when it shows every sign of not wanting you there any more.