A year on

Twelve months af­ter the Kaik­oura earth­quake, those whose lives were jolted apart are still hurt­ing but they say they must suck it up and move on. They also say it’s been a tough old year. Kurt Bayer re­ports.

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At 12.02am last Novem­ber 14, the peo­ple of Kaik­oura and Wa­iau were tossed from their beds by a 7.8 mag­ni­tude quake, which claimed two lives and changed the land­scape for­ever. A year on, Kurt Bayer re­turns to find out how the lo­cals are far­ing.

From moss-mot­tled con­crete steps, Jules Wal­lace watches them play. Lit­tle fin­gers knead and squelch slime. Rais­ing their palms, green-and­crim­son goo oozes and drips in stretchy tears to squeals of de­light. Wal­lace smiles. They re­mind her of granddaughter Sophia be­fore she died, not much older than them. Kids be­ing kids. Not a care in the world, un­der a high spring sun, as it should be.

Spare them the wor­ries, the doubts. The feel­ings of sor­row and loss, both fresh and aged, at see­ing your earth­quake-smacked house be­ing un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously razed by dig­ger jaws a year on. Let them smudge and smear and gig­gle and grow.

Let the adults won­der: what now? “The love is very strong here and we’re very grate­ful for what we’ve got, but there’s no doubt it’s been a hell of a hard year,” Wal­lace says, plac­ing fallen plas­tic blocks back on top of a multi-coloured tower.

If a year’s a long time in pol­i­tics, 12 months can be both fleet­ing or eter­nity for dis­as­ter sur­vivors.

Just ask Cantabri­ans, even to­day. And so it is for the peo­ple of Wa­iau and Kaik­oura.

The mag­ni­tude-7.8 that tossed them from their beds at 12.02am on Novem­ber 14 last year turned both the con­tents of their kitchens and their worlds up­side down.

It claimed two lives, pan­caked build­ings, sheared roads and rolling farm­land, col­lapsed moun­tain­sides, and lifted the Kaik­oura seabed out of the wa­ter.

For many, the clean-up was quick. Life soon went on. As Wa­iau res­i­dent and com­mu­nity vol­un­teer, Alex Bush puts it: “It’s a ru­ral mind­set of, you just suck it up and move on.”

There are some, how­ever, who are still pick­ing up the pieces. Au­thor­i­ties closely mon­i­tor men­tal health. In­sur­ance stand-offs. Feel­ings of be­ing for­got­ten. Ma­jor roads are still closed and far from be­ing fully func­tional.

Tourists, the lifeblood of the sea­side, whale-watch­ing mecca of Kaik­oura, are only trick­ling back.

WITH THE kids buzzing around her feet, Wal­lace looks around lit­tle Wa­iau.

It’s busy enough. Trucks are parked out­side Brenda’s on Lyn­don cafe and shop. Dusty farm utes thrum past with bark­ing dogs. A lawn­mower whirrs.

But the quake has left its mark on the tiny North Can­ter­bury town, pop­u­la­tion 300.

It had 26 build­ings red-stick­ered. For such a small com­mu­nity, it’s been a dev­as­tat­ing blow. Lo­cals are ex­as­per­ated that the event is of­fi­cially coined the “Kaik­oura Earth­quake” when it was Wa­iau that wore its vi­cious epi­cen­tre.

Not only have many homes been de­stroyed, sev­eral key com­mu­nity build­ings and in­fra­struc­ture have been ruled off-lim­its. These in­cluded the bowl­ing club, Scouts den, swim­ming pool, play­cen­tre, church and the only pub, which now trades out of a tem­po­rary pop-up struc­ture.

The fu­ture of many build­ings is still in limbo. They’re cracked, lean­ing, fenced off, boarded up, dan­ger zones. The bricks from some houses are stacked on front lawns. Weather­board is ex­posed.

Wal­lace wept when she watched her home of nine years be­ing de­mol­ished last week. She and part­ner Pe­ter man­aged to save a memo­rial stone and cross to granddaughter Sophia in the front gar­den be­fore the ex­ca­va­tors moved in.

The pop­u­lar 10-year-old with the sparkling eyes died in a farm ac­ci­dent six years ago. She is buried in the same plot as her brother Liam, who died in his cot aged 5 months.

“We had a lot of mem­o­ries there. When your house dies, it’s like you’re griev­ing an­other death,” Wal­lace says.

The quake hit their house like a freight train, Pe­ter Wal­lace says. Hear­ing it rum­bling to­wards them, he stood to check on the kids.

“It hit with a boom and threw me across the room,” the 62-year-old says.

“I tried to get to the kids but the doors wouldn’t open and stuff had tipped ev­ery­where. I could hear the kids scream­ing. I yelled at them to get in the mid­dle bunk and stay there.”

He man­aged to break win­dows to res­cue them. Slot­ting them into gum­boots, they crunched through glass to the lo­cal pri­mary school where the fright­ened town met in the dark.

“We all sat there in the rain, happy to be alive,” he says.

Once the dust set­tled and dawn came, they found Wa­iau Play­cen­tre, where Jules Wal­lace works as a co­or­di­na­tor, badly dam­aged.

A pil­lar of the town for more than

40 years, the par­ent-led play­cen­tre build­ing was ruled off-lim­its. It’s been fenced off ever since. Grass grows tall around the sad sight of the aban­doned play­ground.

In March, the play­cen­tre re­opened in the nearby Plun­ket build­ing, op­po­site a crum­bling 107-year-old Wa­iau Lodge Ho­tel.

With a 10-month rent-free ar­range­ment, it is open twice a week, for up to 10 chil­dren. Cramped and tem­po­rary, it will do for now.

Mean­while, its hard-work­ing com­mit­tee has leased land 100m away from Hu­runui District Coun­cil on a

20-year, $1-a-year nom­i­nal lease. Now they are seek­ing grants and fundrais­ing re­lent­lessly to come up with the $250,000 for the new build­ing.

The fundrais­ers have been true to their ru­ral Kiwi roots: ca­ter­ing at dog tri­als and run­ning pig hunts.

“It’s been pretty clas­sic, but the kids love it,” says Court­ney Rid­ings, play­cen­tre pres­i­dent and mum to play­cen­tre kids, Noah, 4, and 2-yearold Harper.

“If it wasn’t for the com­mu­nity, we would’ve strug­gled. We’ve had to do it all our­selves, and at times we’ve had to say, ‘No fundrais­ers for a few weeks, we just need a break’.

“But this place is just crit­i­cal for ev­ery­one, not just the kids, but for the par­ents too.”

HEAD­ING 20KM north, to­wards the still snow-topped Kaik­oura moun­tain range, Court­ney’s mother, Donna Rid­ings, has strug­gled too.

At the bot­tom of a shin­gle road that winds through a pic­turesque green val­ley, her dream home, 106-year old Sher­wood Lodge pan­caked in the quake.

Rid­ings and part­ner Paul Craig were lucky to es­cape with their lives. As the vi­o­lent shak­ing in­creased in in­ten­sity, the man­sion’s walls started to cave in and the sec­ond-floor roof col­lapsed. The pair leaped 2m out of a bed­room win­dow and fled to the rel­a­tive safety of the ten­nis court.

A year later, their beloved home­stead re­mains a sorry sight of crum­pled con­crete and river stone, oak, plas­ter and lath. It’s deemed a com­plete re­build, es­ti­mated to cost as much as $7.5 mil­lion.

Rid­ings has re­jected her in­sur­ance com­pany’s $1.8m cash set­tle­ment of­fer and is now locked in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“It’s only been a year, and I know that for peo­ple in Christchurch it’s been seven years . . . but it’s cer­tainly not been a con­struc­tive time for us,” the health and safety man­ager said.

For six months, Rid­ings lived in a car­a­van parked on the ten­nis court. Later, she moved to a back shed to es­cape the howl­ing winds that tear through the val­ley. She’s since moved to a rental flat in Christchurch, partly to avoid the sad scene.

“That was the hard­est part,” she says, “go­ing home ev­ery night and see­ing the dev­as­ta­tion. It took a real toll on me. It’s been so frus­trat­ing.”

Pri­vate in­sur­ers have fully set­tled 69 per cent of all res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial claims for the Novem­ber 14 event. The In­sur­ance Coun­cil of New Zealand says it’s “very pleased with our rate of progress”. How­ever, Christchurch ac­coun­tant and ad­vo­cate for in­sur­ance and EQC claimants Cam Pre­ston says it’s not good enough.

“Peo­ple are liv­ing in garages, some haven’t even seen an as­ses­sor yet; we don’t see that as some­thing to be proud of,” he says.

Pre­ston is also con­cerned that pri­vate in­sur­ers as­sess­ing dam­age in Kaik­oura have been ad­vised by the Earth­quake Com­mis­sion to use a part of the EQC Act that he says wrongly de­fines re­place­ment.

“Claimants are likely to be ne­go­ti­at­ing re­place­ment of dam­aged prop­erty at a level that is sig­nif­i­cantly be­low the stan­dard of re­place­ment that they are en­ti­tled to, ac­cord­ing to the Joint Agree­ment signed last April,” he warns.

THINGS ARE mov­ing on for many quake vic­tims, how­ever.

Just south at Scargill, ham­mered by a vi­cious mag­ni­tude-5.7 af­ter­shock, lo­cals are de­cid­ing whether to re­pair, re­build or erect a new com­mu­nity hall. Grants and re­lief have come from cen­tral Gov­ern­ment, but com­mu­ni­ties are also pitch­ing in and do­ing it them­selves.

Hu­runui District Mayor Win­ton Dal­ley urges his peo­ple to see op­por­tu­ni­ties in­stead of loss.

“Peo­ple have stepped up in their com­mu­ni­ties,” he says. “There’s al­ways good stuff that comes out of ad­ver­sity, it just takes time and a bit of let­ting go of the past.” he says.

Get­ting the roads back will be crit­i­cal to the re­spec­tive re­cov­er­ies of North Can­ter­bury and Marl­bor­ough.

State High­way One south of

Kaik­oura “re­opened” be­fore last Christ­mas. But it’s been closed reg­u­larly af­ter storms or af­ter­shocks and for on­go­ing re­pairs and heavy work, much to the frus­tra­tion of lo­cals, es­pe­cially busi­nesses in Kaik­oura, Che­viot and Greta Val­ley, who be­come cut off.

The Trans­port Agency this month con­firmed plans to re­open SH1 north of Kaik­oura to traf­fic on De­cem­ber 15 this year, restor­ing the crit­i­cal coastal high­way link from Pic­ton to Christchurch.

How­ever, sev­eral sites will re­main un­der con­struc­tion. There will be some un­sealed sur­faces, lane clo­sures and stop/go traf­fic con­trols. The route will be closed at night in places for sev­eral months and there will be planned clo­sures for “high­im­pact work”.

The es­ti­mated travel time to drive be­tween Pic­ton and Christchurch on SH1 when it re-opens in De­cem­ber is ex­pected to be a min­i­mum of five­and-a-half hours.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is cru­cial to en­sur­ing peo­ple know what to ex­pect on the roads, says Kaik­oura Mayor Win­ston Gray.

“The words go­ing out will be very im­por­tant,” he says. “The stats say 20 per cent of peo­ple don’t lis­ten to the ad­vice be­ing given. They drive up here and get to Goose Bay or Clarence and won­der why the road is closed. They just aren’t get­ting it.”

The in­land road to Kaik­oura was the first ac­ces­si­ble over­land route to the stricken sea­side town af­ter the quake.

Ini­tially, only the Army could get through, bring­ing in tonnes of aid by con­voy via a long, ar­du­ous jour­ney, tak­ing up­wards of six hours.

For months, the jour­ney took hours, with mul­ti­ple stops at road­works where con­trac­tors and ma­chin­ery of all types — diggers, bull­doz­ers, graders, rollers, trac­tors, trucks — worked fu­ri­ously to clear gi­ant land­slips.

But now it’s a dif­fer­ent story. In­land Route 70 from Wa­iau to Kaik­oura takes around 75 min­utes in ei­ther di­rec­tion.

The im­prove­ments to the road are vast. Stop-go signs are in­fre­quent. The road is re-di­rected at the worst sites, par­tic­u­larly a sec­tion known as Whales Back.

The ma­jor hold-ups now are trucks, some laden with huge loads of steel gird­ers and heavy ma­chin­ery for the road­works go­ing on north of Kaik­oura.

There are also sev­eral camper­vans and rental cars.

But once in Kaik­oura, it is ev­i­dent that things are far from re­turn­ing to pre-quake lev­els of tourist boom.

The main street of West End is eerily quiet. Lo­cals do­ing rou­tine er­rands and flu­oro-shirted road­ing con­trac­tors greatly out­num­bered tourists.

Sev­eral cafes are closed at lunchtime. The his­toric and im­pos­ing Adel­phi Ho­tel has been part­ly­de­mol­ished. Other build­ings are

boarded up or cor­doned off.

One tourist, Zeus Romero, a

27-year-old ma­gi­cian from Barcelona, has come to see the seals. He will stay for two days be­fore head­ing south to Queen­stown and Mil­ford Sound.

“We had friends say there was an earth­quake and the seals had gone, but they are now back, so we came to see. There is no rea­son not to come,” Romero says.

It’s been tough times for the tourist-de­pen­dent town.

Two of the ma­jor op­er­a­tors, Whale Watch and Dol­phin En­counter, both shut for weeks af­ter the quake.

Dam­age to the town’s ma­rina and the seabed jump­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary

2m meant they couldn’t get their boats into the wa­ter.

Whale Watch, world-renowned for spot­ting 20m sperm whales, was forced to put three of its four boats in dry dock. Run­ning at just 25 per cent ca­pac­ity for al­most a year was chal­leng­ing for the com­pany, says mar­ket­ing man­ager Lisa Bond.

“That’s just what we had to do. There was no other op­tion,” she said.

It was a sim­i­lar story for Dol­phin En­counter, says co-owner Den­nis Bu­ur­man. Busi­ness has been down at least 30 per cent.

“It’s been ex­cep­tion­ally chal­leng­ing,” he says. “It’s been sur­vival in a way.”

ON TUES­DAY, on the first-year an­niver­sary of the quake, a re­de­vel­oped mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ma­rina will be of­fi­cially opened at South Bay. Thou­sands of cu­bic me­tres of rocks have been dug out of the chan­nels and a

new jetty will be able to cater for cruise ship ten­ders.

The tour com­pa­nies are feel­ing pos­i­tive about the new ma­rina, and with the re­open­ing of SH1, an ex­pected re­turn of more tourist cash. Whale Watch now has its four boats back in the wa­ter and early sum­mer book­ings are re­port­edly heart­en­ing.

“We’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing like what we went through,” says Bu­ur­man. “But we’re con­fi­dent the peo­ple will come back. Peo­ple still come here and can’t be­lieve the place.”

There are other suc­cess sto­ries in town too.

Quake-dam­aged Mitre 10 Kaik­oura re­opened last month as Ham­mer Hard­ware Kaik­oura. Roz and Bruce Hills, along with son James and daugh­ter Cindy have been flat out.

“We’ve been a part of the com­mu­nity for a long time and we know how much they’ve missed the store while it’s been closed,” Bruce says.

Even the mayor has been pop­ping in for his gar­den­ing sup­plies. He’s been buoyed by his com­mu­nity’s spirit to get things back up and run­ning.

“We’re go­ing to get some good stuff come out of this,” says Gray.

Mark Fis­senden’s Pa­per Plus shop was yel­low-stick­ered af­ter the jolt so he jumped on his fa­ther’s dig­ger and helped clear a pas­sage through the in­land road, meet­ing fel­low fa­ther-and son con­trac­tors Mark and Sam Pow­ell from Ly­ford Con­tract­ing at the Con­way River Bridge.

A fort­night later, he’d re­lo­cated to a smaller store a few doors down.

Now, he’s the driv­ing force be­hind a new pop-up mall across the road on the cleared Adel­phi site that will open be­fore Christ­mas.

“That will cre­ate more pedes­trian ac­tiv­ity, which we need. It’s been a tough old year,” Gray says.

“It’s go­ing to take some time to re­cover. We’re look­ing to sum­mer and we think it’ll be okay, but will it be good? That’s the ques­tion.”

Around the town, the ser­vice in­dus­try — the garages, en­gi­neers, con­trac­tors, su­per­mar­kets — are flat out.

But oth­ers, es­pe­cially smaller op­er­a­tors and peo­ple Gray de­scribes as be­ing “in the area of dis­cre­tionary tourist spend”, are strug­gling.

The an­nual spend was slashed by al­most half, from $120 mil­lion to

$63m. “That’s a lot of money not in the econ­omy,” Gray says.

The fi­nan­cial stress, los­ing homes and busi­nesses, cou­pled with Kaik­oura’s iso­la­tion and the dis­as­ter com­ing af­ter three years of North Can­ter­bury drought, has also seen an in­crease in men­tal health con­cerns.

“Peo­ple are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what you would ex­pect to ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter any ma­jor event. They are tired, ex­hausted, and still do­ing their nor­mal jobs but on top of that deal­ing with in­sur­ance, and fi­nan­cial wor­ries, and ev­ery­thing else,” says Rose Hen­der­son, Can­ter­bury District Health Board’s clin­i­cal lead for the Re­cov­ery and Well­be­ing North Can­ter­bury and Kaik­oura team.

Over the past 12 months, a small team of men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als have been tour­ing the quake-hit com­mu­ni­ties and tak­ing re­fer­rals from GPs and so­cial ser­vice providers.

They’ve also had a pres­ence at dog tri­als, school bar­be­cues and com­mu­nity meet­ings on road up­dates.

“We want to pro­vide rapid ac­cess at an in­ter­ven­tion point to en­able what­ever the prob­lem is to try and be ad­dressed rather than that prob­lem es­ca­lat­ing and be­com­ing worse,” Hen­der­son says. “The mantra I use is ‘pos­i­tively adapt­ing to a changed re­al­ity’.”

Tues­day’s first an­niver­sary will be emo­tional for many peo­ple, she ac­cepts, but stresses it is im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge the land­mark mo­ment with­out “catas­trophis­ing” it.

Al­ter­na­tive ther­apy has been of­fered at Crazy Jane’s. Hair stylist Jane Hill re­opened her sa­lon on the north­ern fringe of Kaik­oura within days “be­cause peo­ple de­pended on me”.

Hill had just hung her Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions that evening and had gone to bed when the ground rup­tured.

The en­tire con­tents of her sa­lon — chairs, till, scis­sors, mirrors, tow­els, sprays — were hurled into one cor­ner. Be­fore she had ti­died it all back, she was cut­ting hair on the street out­side. “Peo­ple needed old Crazy Jane and I needed to make peo­ple feel nor­mal. It’s a kind of ther­apy,” says the colour­ful mother of two sons.

Her home suf­fered mi­nor quake dam­age too. But she has opened it up to ac­com­mo­date two con­trac­tors work­ing on the SH1 road and rail re­build.

Things have shifted, she feels. “My life is dam­aged, my road is dam­aged. It’s like liv­ing in a to­tally dif­fer­ent town,” Hill says.

“It has brought us all a lot closer to­gether but we’ve lost a lot of re­ally cool peo­ple, and I miss their faces. I hope they come back.”

Any­one find­ing it hard to cope and

● need­ing sup­port can ring the Earth­quake Sup­port Line on 0800

777 846 avail­able 24/7.

Al­though some homes were de­stroyed or had later to be de­mol­ished, oth­ers have been re­paired.

Wa­iau Play­cen­tre co-or­di­na­tor Jules Wal­lace (left) and its pres­i­dent Court­ney Rid­ings.

Hair­dresser Jane Hill, whose busi­ness be­came a drop-in cen­tre.

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