– Mount Pleasant, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

After Feb22, we camped on our back lawn for weeks – the house seemed far too dangerous to be in. We couldn’t imagine living in it ever again as both chimneys either side of the house had fallen down and you could see daylight right through from one end to the other. With no essential services in the neighbourhood, our campsite became affectionately known as Base Camp!

Our neighbours made the best of it as we gathered chatting most hours of the day and nights on our back lawn for meals – amazing what you can cook on a bbq from fast defrosting freezers – we ate like kings and queens the first few days as we couldn’t bare the waste of whitebait, venison, lamb racks, scallops etc!. After 6 days we were down to sausages and pancakes then we were loaned a diesel generator which was like winning lotto – the jug could be boiled, phone calls could be made, camera charged to record all the breakages for EQC & and insurance and we could wash dishes!.

In the evenings we would sit around on what was left of our broken garden furniture and entertain each other with tales of what we had achieved during the day (removing neighbours’ brick chimneys that had fallen into living rooms, or checking on the elderly in the area, doing make safe works ourselves). One neighbour was gifted a huge 10,000 litre tank of fresh water straight from a country well – we were sooo delighted as we had filled almost every wheelie bin in the neighbourhood in the afternoon of the 22nd from a broken water pipe and the water was starting to get pretty horrible.

Every time one of us had to leave the neighbourhood, we all bought back essentials for each other from country shops. We would get excited if someone managed to pick up a litre of fresh milk or bring a salad back. Our complimentary Meridian radio was a lifeline to hearing the news, updates and whiling away the long hours lying on a foam pillows in the tent listening to people ringing in on newstalk zb. The helicopters hovered over, alarms and sirens sounded, our two storied wooden house shook violently with every aftershock – these are the noises I still remember un-fondly in those early days.

After nearly 3 weeks, we had cleaned up the mess in the kitchen enough to be able to be inside without walking on floors covered in food, broken glass & contents, plaster dust and rubble. The weather had changed to a bitterly cold southerly and we invited the neighbours to ours for dinner. We sat in the kitchen with candles lit and then a big aftershock hit lifting our huge granite island bench off its frame!. After so many of these shocks, we waited till it stopped and then carried on determined this was going to be a normal dinner…..more red wine was poured and carried on like nothing had interrupted us. A few hours later the pouring rain came in sheets and we dashed out to our tent to find all our bedding sopping wet and we were ankle deep in water!. Would we sleep in the car or brave the house? Decision made, we headed inside with our torch, radio, mobile phone and climbed up the stairs to retrieve a mattress off a broken bed and a dusty duvet. Our cats found it bizarre to not be sleeping in the tent but they joined us on the mattress on the lounge floor in the darkness and we barely got wink of sleep as the shakes were so much louder inside the house. The next day, the rain continued so we stayed indoors to finally finish giving the kitchen floor a spring clean after weeks of being caked dry with old food from the pantry and fridge.

I was just thinking yay, we can finally take off our work boots indoors when there was a knock on the door and peering through the window was an elderly EQC man looking very bedraggled with misty spectacles on and a very wet hi viz. He was carrying a recycled cloth bag with a tick box sheet on a clipboard in it. We made him a hot cup of tea and got him dried off feeling quite sorry for him. He was here he told us to do a ‘rapid assessment’ and this would establish if our house was mildly or severely damaged. We sat him on a chair and he ticked lots of boxes in reply to our answers. He didn’t get up once to look at the house! He left after he finished his cuppa 20 mins later and complained that he had 10 of these to do. I wiped up the wet footprints from the floor. We were just thinking what was that all about?, when another knock at the door. He was back! He wanted to use our loo (which fortunately was now working). After he left, I went into the bathroom and couldn’t believe it when I stepped in a huge puddle of urine! He had completely and utterly missed the toilet bowl!

Despite being mad as a meat axe and having to wash the floors again, I asked my partner this question – if the EQC assessor can’t see further than the end of his willy to the toilet bowl…what on earth is he doing assessing our house for severe damage?

Polly, Mount Pleasant

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