Waiau’s slow road to recovery
The underdog town of Waiau, closest to the epicentre of the November 14 earthquake, is forging ahead, reports
happily lived in. Why so quick off the mark with the ‘‘sad’’ Waiau diagnosis?
‘‘You go in there and you can feel the depression,’’ Wallace says, ‘‘It’s not as bad as it was but it’s still there.’’
‘‘It’s a sad place. It’s taken a long time for the recovery. Just getting insurance sorted, getting the infrastructure back up, it’s just taking time and that’s holding people back.’’
Herein lies the enigma of an earthquake recovery, a journey New Zealand is sadly familiar with. The process is working well, unless it isn’t. And if it isn’t going well, is that someone’s fault, or just a fact of life? There is no easy answer. Wallace is happy with his personal circumstances, not so says.
‘‘It’s a massive geographic area and a very sparsely spread population . . . The percentage of people [affected] here is probably larger than it was in the Canterbury quake. While the numbers may be small the effect on the community is pretty massive.’’
Insurance claims are welladvanced. The Insurance Council reported that 91 per cent of residential claims had been assessed by the end of October. Sixty-five per cent of building claims and 92 per cent of home contents claims were fully settled.
Paul Newberry-Johnson isn’t waiting on his insurance, but his recovery is far from over. Cinder blocks lie strewn on the driveway; in the bedroom two flimsy supports hold up a piece of jib board – all that’s left of the wall with the bricks on the ground.
The first engineer to inspect the house declared it a write-off, Newberry-Johnson says. He didn’t even want to go inside. A sum insured payout was forthcoming. Newberry-Johnson believed it covered the cost of demolition, about $30,000. It didn’t.
‘‘I had a phone conference with this woman in Kaikoura,’’ he says, ‘‘The very last thing she said to me on the phone was, ‘By the way Paul, we’re not going to knock down your house’.’’
Annette Purvis, general manager of IAG’s disaster recovery unit, says NewberryJohnson’s policy included cover demolition costs, but because the damage to the house was estimated at more than the sum he was insured for, demolition could not be covered in the settlement. ‘‘We spoke with him a week before settlement about this.’’
Now, Newberry-Johnson is doing the job himself – ‘‘I’ve got some mates with a few toys’’. He and partner Frances O’Connell lived in a caravan on their property after the earthquake. They moved into a friend’s cottage just out of town over winter to escape the cold, but are returning to the caravan for the demolition.
‘‘It was so nice having a shower, toilet, kitchen,’’ O’Connell says.
On the main street, Brenda Smith, of Brenda’s on Lyndon cafe and dairy, says business is good. Unpredictable, with swarms of road workers coming and going and changeable conditions on State Highway 1 doing to same to through-traffic, but good. She settled the last of the insurance claims for her business a couple of months ago. The experience was a little unsettling, she says.
Since the 2011 earthquakes, insurers have moved to sum insured coverage for properties, where customers are insured for a finite dollar amount. There are no full replacements policies, covering whatever costs are necessary to rebuild what you had, no building company project managing construction.
‘‘It’s hard,’’ Smith says, ‘‘We get offered money and you accept that money and then you have to do everything yourself. Christchurch didn’t do that. Which makes it hard because you need to trust what you’re getting and trust what you’re doing.’’
Nowhere was underinsurance felt more keenly in Waiau than the pub. The building was insured, but the policy had no natural disaster coverage. The stricken, century-old building still sits, red-stickered, behind protective fencing.
There are 12 separate types of damage keeping the red sticker in place, publican Michelle Beri says.
‘‘There’s so much work to do,’’ Beri says.
‘‘If we can lift this notice, we may be able to move back in there, we may be able to trade with accommodation.’’
Maybe. In the meantime, their new pop-up bar is doing a healthy trade. More of the turnover comes from food than drinks, an unheard of ratio in the old pub and even more impressive when you consider the entire bar is about the size of the old kitchen. Beri and Collins live in a portacom and a shed respectively.
‘‘We’re going to do it,’’ Beri says, ‘‘We have to do it. We have to do it for the community.’’
A town with a population of under 300 that lost its pub, historic cottage, bowling green, church, swimming pool and nearly half of its school roll (the numbers are recovering now) forging ahead in spite of it all.
It collectively bristles at every reference to the ‘‘Kaikoura’’ earthquake. The epicentre was just 5km from Waiau. As the official T-shirts in the pub say: ‘‘It’s Waiau’s Fault.’’
Waiau’s Anglican church was one of the community buildings to become an earthquake casualty.
Paul Newberry-Johnson says the insurance process was trying. ‘‘We’ve had to put our life on hold.’’