‘We don’t know how lucky we were’

South Marl­bor­ough re­mains stoic one year on from the Novem­ber 14, 2016 earth­quake. re­ports.

Marlborough Express - - NEWS -

Oliver Lewis

In a pair of towns strad­dling a ma­jor high­way, the sound of en­gine noise at night has be­come a cu­rios­ity. Peo­ple prick up their ears from in­side earth­quake-dam­aged homes, won­der­ing about a noise that un­til a year ago was a nearcon­stant hum in the back­ground.

Any road big enough to mat­ter is called ar­te­rial, but for the south Marl­bor­ough towns of Sed­don and Ward the de­scrip­tion is par­tic­u­larly apt for State High­way 1.

Wind­ing its way through the sur­round­ing vine­yards and gold­coloured, rolling hills, the high­way pumped through a steady stream of trav­ellers and trade – lifeblood for busi­nesses in the area.

So when the earth­quake struck, leav­ing Sed­don and Ward stranded on one of the big­gest cul de sacs in the coun­try, there were fears it would be a kind of death knell for the towns.

‘‘The thought was Sed­don would die, be­cause its roots were cut off from Christchurch, but it’s al­most been the op­po­site,’’ says Paul McIn­tyre, over a cup of cof­fee in the Cosy Cor­ner Cafe.

It’s late in the morn­ing, but a few hours ear­lier the Sed­don in­sti­tu­tion would have been full with hi-vis clad road work­ers, pick­ing up lunch on their way south to work on the high­way.

While he lives in Blen­heim, McIn­tyre spends a lot of time in the town. He man­ages 150 hectares of vine­yards in the area, and has seen the ef­fects of the earth­quake on his six staff.

All of them suf­fered dam­age to their homes, but a year on the re­pairs have largely been done and McIn­tyre has the sense that life, for the most part, has re­turned to nor­mal.

But the cracks are still there. The day be­fore, Cosy Cor­ner worker Mar­lene ‘Brownie’

Jack­son sat in the small road­side build­ing watch­ing the glass in the win­dows wob­ble as a 4.1-mag­ni­tude af­ter­shock rat­tled the town.

‘‘We’re al­ways think­ing there’s go­ing to be an­other big one. We’re right on the cor­ner over there,’’ she says, point­ing in the di­rec­tion of her dam­aged house.

‘‘Even the sound of trucks go­ing down the road, you go ‘oh’ – there are dif­fer­ent lit­tle things that set it off again, then you re­mem­ber the sound.’’

The sound and the de­struc­tion wrought by the Kaiko¯ura earth­quake was worse, she says, than the pre­vi­ous two ma­jor earth­quakes that struck the area in 2013.

Brownie is still in in­sur­ance limbo. The brick­work on her home was badly dam­aged by the earth­quake, and there are dif­fer­ing thoughts on how much it will cost to re­pair.

In a town of around 900 peo­ple, the losses were sig­nif­i­cant. A year on and the only pub, the East Coast Inn, is still closed, shut­tered up and likely dam­aged be­yond re­pair.

Most houses built of brick and mor­tar are gone, Mike says, and the dra­matic seabed up­lift down the road at Ward Beach has put the fu­ture of the largest em­ployer in town, Burkhart Fish­eries, at risk.

‘‘You get a lit­tle bit de­featist really, don’t you? At the end of the day you’ve got to pick your­self up and get on with it, no one’s go­ing to do it for you,’’ he says.

At the Burkhart Fish­eries fac­tory, broth­ers and own­ers Clarence farmer John Mur­ray used to con­sider the river a friend. These days he’s not so sure.

From a van­tage point on his sprawl­ing fam­ily farm, Wood­bank, John points down at a patch of lush, river­side graz­ing land.

To the un­trained eye, the view, while beau­ti­ful, is en­tirely un­re­mark­able. But for those who know the area the change is ob­vi­ous – a year ago the river didn’t used to be there.

Dur­ing the earth­quake, up­lift in the Clarence River cre­ated a di­ver­sion, chan­nelling wa­ter off in a new path straight through some of John’s best graz­ing land.

He es­ti­mates he’s lost around 25 hectares to the river and a fur­ther 25 has been left in­ac­ces­si­ble, cut off on the new is­land formed by the earth­quake.

John suf­fered other losses, in­clud­ing se­vere dam­age to the 111-year-old Wood­bank home­stead, but see­ing his farm­land erode into the river has been the hard­est to swal­low.

‘‘When you have a river nib­bling at the best coun­try you’ve got, you don’t really think about much else. It’s far greater than hav­ing a cou­ple houses dam­aged that may be writ­ten off – that’s mi­nor,’’ he says.

And a year on, the ef­fects are still be­ing felt.

Twice in the past month, over­flow from the new river chan­nel has swamped a smaller farm, and John fears if noth­ing is done the SH1 bridge fur­ther down could even­tu­ally come un­der threat.

The un­usu­ally wet spring has caused other prob­lems for farm­ers in the area. Rain has seeped into cracks, and sent slips down onto re­paired fences and farm tracks.

Bluff Sta­tion farm­ers Sue and Richard Mur­ray, whose mas­sive 12,000 hectare prop­erty stretches from the In­land Kaiko¯ura Ranges to the Clarence River, know this all too well.

‘‘It’ll be at least a cou­ple more years un­til we get our­selves even back to nor­mal, back to where we were. Be­cause of hous­ing, be­cause of road­ing, be­cause of fenc­ing,’’ Sue says.

A short walk from the Mur­rays’ home is their sin­gle men’s quar­ters, di­rectly on top of the Kek­erengu Fault. Twisted, and shunted off its foun­da­tions, it serves as a po­tent re­minder of the force of the earth­quake.

But de­spite the is­sues, and the sense of iso­la­tion caused by the clo­sure of the high­way, peo­ple in the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties of south Marl­bor­ough are a stoic lot.

‘‘It’ll heal over,’’ Richard says, trac­ing the path of the fault line through his prop­erty.

‘‘It’s dev­as­tat­ing, my gen­er­a­tion was taught from an early age ... to save and put acorns away for a rainy day. That’s what’s saved us. But 45 years of acorn stack­ing only lasts so long.’’ Den­nis Burkhart


Wood­bank farmer John Mur­ray with the new course of the Clarence River, eat­ing through some of his best graz­ing land in the back­ground.


State High­way 1, north of Ward.


Dam­age at Sed­don Su­perValue.

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