THE COURAGE IN KAIK­OURA’S COME­BACK

AF­TER THE DEVASTATING QUAKE, THIS TOWN IS BACK IN BUSI­NESS

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - MILESTONES IN THE LIFE OF THE PRINCE OF WALES - Lyn­ley Ward

Two years ago in the dead of night, Kaik­oura was wo­ken sud­denly as the earth con­vulsed and buck­led in a pow­er­ful and deadly 7.8mag­ni­tude earth­quake.

For two ter­ri­fy­ing min­utes, the top of the South Is­land heaved so vi­o­lently that great chasms ap­peared across the land­scape, build­ings col­lapsed and the seabed rose from the wa­ter.

Its af­ter­math was devastating. Two peo­ple were killed, while the sea­side set­tle­ment was cut off, the main high­way buried un­der an avalanche of de­bris.

Two years on, with State High­way 1 open again, mayor Win­ston Gray (66) is up­beat.

“Kaik­oura is back in busi­ness. We’ve got a good fu­ture. It just hurts in the mean­time,” he says with a wry chuckle.

Lo­cal baker Sophia Smed­ley says it’s only been in the last few months that life has seemed nor­mal. She re­calls turn­ing up to the bak­ery hours af­ter the pow­er­ful tremor and find­ing a scene of chaos, with trays tipped over and the 15-tonne oven shunted across the floor.

While the shop was able to open soon af­ter, it wasn’t long be­fore the bak­ers started run­ning low on all-im­por­tant flour and bread pro­duc­tion threat­ened to grind to a halt.

“Get­ting sup­plies was dread­ful,” re­mem­bers Sophia (49). “We had barely three days of flour left. Peo­ple would bring us in flour they had at home, which was re­ally sweet but didn’t go any­where near to what we needed.

“In the end, the flour came by or­der of the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice on a he­li­copter and we picked it up from the race­course. It seems so sur­real when you think back on it.”

With the town­ship look­ing like a war zone, she says the shop rep­re­sented a small piece of ev­ery­day life. “Peo­ple told us it was so nice to have a pie or some­thing nor­mal, be­cause noth­ing was nor­mal.”

But on November 14, Sophia won’t be mak­ing any at­tempt to mark the dread­ful day.

“It wasn’t a happy oc­ca­sion. It was not a nice time and it’s not some­thing I want to go back and re­live in any form.”

Mayor Gray, who was more than 200km away in St Arnaud when the quake hit, says there’s still ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture work to be com­pleted around the district and while many homes re­main dam­aged, the re­build is well and truly un­der­way.

“It’s two years now so it’s gone pretty quickly re­ally, but the roads aren’t fin­ished yet. They’re still work­ing on the high­way − that’s the main work go­ing on, get­ting that com­plete.”

By far the big­gest boost to the com­mu­nity came when the main route con­nect­ing Kaik­oura to the top of the South Is­land was restored 11 months ago.

“Ev­ery­thing hinged on the re­open­ing of State High­way 1,” he says. “Get­ting peo­ple back in town has changed the place.“

“This year has been a lot more nor­mal than the year be­fore,” says Lisa Bond (42), Whale Watch Kaik­oura’s mar­ket­ing man­ager.

“The quake brought our busi­ness to a halt. With all three roads closed, peo­ple couldn’t come in and with the sea floor ris­ing, it meant our boats were sit­ting on the hard.

“It was a year to the day later that the ma­rina re­opened and we were able to start op­er­at­ing with all four ves­sels. Last sum­mer we were back to full ca­pac­ity and it was great to see the town so busy.”

Lisa re­calls when the team ven­tured back into the wa­ter five days af­ter the jolt to ex­am­ine the im­pact on sea life.

“We did not know what to pre­pare our­selves for. We went about three miles off­shore and put the hy­drophone in the wa­ter. All you could hear was the click­ing of sperm whales so there was a lot of ju­bi­la­tion.

“We ended up see­ing five whales, plus dol­phins, seals and an al­ba­tross. We all looked at each other go­ing, ‘You know, this sucks right now, but there’s hope be­cause the marine life is still here.’”

Lisa, who is also a district coun­cil­lor and church el­der, says the com­mu­nity is still ral­ly­ing in the face of dis­as­ter.

“We have our ups and downs

‘Peo­ple told us it was so nice to have a pie or some­thing nor­mal, be­cause noth­ing was nor­mal.’ – Baker Sophia Smed­ley

but I think the great thing is that we’ve had good com­mu­ni­ca­tion with each other.”

Mean­while, Mayor Gray is hop­ing the re­build will bring a slew of new de­vel­op­ment.

“I was in real es­tate for 18 years prior to the quake and we tried to get a ho­tel and it never hap­pened. Get a damn earth­quake and sud­denly a ho­tel comes,” he says, adding that there are more de­vel­op­ments to come.

While many peo­ple are liv­ing in dam­aged homes, there is a feel­ing the com­mu­nity is get­ting back to pre-quake times.

Lisa is still home­less but says there is much to be grate­ful for.

“I lost my home. Some­times I can’t be­lieve I’m still in a car­a­van, but then I think I’ve got a roof over my head and great peo­ple around me so re­ally I don’t have much to com­plain about.”

Ups and downs: Two years on, the roads are still be­ing fixed but the town is no longer cut off. Be­low: Res­i­dent Lisa is home­less but grate­ful, while Mayor Gray is up­beat about the re­build.

Post- quake, lo­cals pooled their flour so baker Sophia could keep bread on their ta­bles.

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