– Queensbury Street, Burwood, Christchurch, New Zealand

I understand you asked for emails written at the time of the quakes. Below are some sent and received following the February 2011 earthquake.

27/2/11

Thanks for your email. Yes we are all okay – I am at my niece Sophie’s place for the day. I am staying at home because I’m worried about looters – there were some around after the first earthquake, and apparently more so now, but the police are now out in force. We do not have power, telephone, water or sewage and the street was flooded, but it is going down now and the house is certainly very liveable. Mum, [my sister] Claire and [brother-in-law] Douglas are staying with another niece, Annabella. I do not at present know about the congregation because of the lack of telecommunication. I will email when I know further.

4/3/11

Two miracles today – we (i.e. Queensbury Street) got the telephone reconnected, and then power. I don’t know how long it will last though, so I will be quick.

We thought at first no brothers or sisters [from our church] had died, but were told last night that a brother from the Philippines was among the missing and confirmation that he was among the dead was expected shortly.

People of all walks of life have been very helpful and supportive. Brothers have come down from Auckland and the congregation meetings we have had have been very upbuilding.

I mentioned after the Sept earthquake that some in the congregation had lost their houses and more have done so this time around. One of our (former) elders and his wife are living in a caravan park. They were trapped in their home without power, water, sewage or telephone for 3 days. As you can imagine they are shell shocked. My sister Claire was trapped in her house for a day, also without any facilities. Fortunately she was with her brother-in-law who lived a few houses down, and when he could not get into his house he went to Claire’s. I got out as I mentioned earlier I think just in time as the waters were rising (the waters were the liquefaction – where the soil acts as a liquid, and the broken water and sewage pipes. My niece Alys and her husband James came around and got me out while they could. Another niece Annabella had 10 members of the family plus 3 dogs staying with her that night. She and her husband William still have mum, Claire and Douglas (and their dog) staying with them – they have been great.

5/3/11

Power is still on – they have installed a generator in our street, I have discovered. It is noisy and such a comfort to hear it humming along as we go about our lives or drop off to sleep.

Robert – our bible study conductor – stopped by today with a survey that the branch wanted us to fill in – what facilities do we have, do we need physical, emotional or spiritual help, etc. I asked him if there was anything I could tell people in the UK. He said that we (New Brighton congregation) were by far the worst affected congregation in Christchurch (we cover the eastern suburbs) and that the nice thing was that it was drawn the Chch congregations together. As I mentioned, the help coming from everyone, from all walks of life, throughout NZ and abroad has been heart-warming. The congregation were at Claire’s house cleaning up the liquefaction from her house and her neighbour’s (although her neighbour has left and at present does not intend coming back) – even Douglas was impressed.

Sending this now – just had quite a nasty aftershock – some things down again but nothing broken I don’t think.

17/4/11

Well, it’s a cold wet day here in Christchurch and I thought I’d drop you a line and give you both an update.

As I may have mentioned, there were 59 families in our congregation who were adversely affected by the earthquake. The area we cover is now apparently 30% smaller because of the families that have moved away. At the beginning of last week we were in Southshore – an upmarket area, large sections, large houses, beautiful views of the estuary, but the land and houses are now badly damaged and I would say about 60% of those houses have been abandoned. Then later in the week we went to Bexley where my sister Claire lives – a poorer, but friendly, area where the land (like Burwood where I live) has now dropped below sea level. There is severe flooding and liquefaction and Bexley was about 90% abandoned. Claire and her husband had been living with their youngest daughter, but they had gone away for a week to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and were planning to move back on their return yesterday. But we had another quite severe aftershock last night and the flooding and liquefaction returned to Bexley, and the doors are sticking badly and one wall is unsafe and will need to be propped up, so it wasn’t a happy return. Their member of parliament, who also lives in Bexley, says she doesn’t see much future for Bexley, and sadly I agree – but although our house is much safer (in fact it is good) than Claire’s, we are also waiting to hear whether the government will decide to fix our suburb or flick it and provide alternative land elsewhere in the city. They were going to fix it after the September earthquake, but the February one caused so much more damage that they decided it would be uneconomic to fix some suburbs, so they are going to let them return to nature. So we, and of course quite a bit of our congregation, are waiting to hear what the outcome will be.

As I think I mentioned previously, we are not allowed into the business district of the city, where so much damage and deaths were, so many firms have moved out to the suburbs, or are operating from homes, or have simply closed up. As a result I have been made redundant, but am trying to use my time wisely.

29/6/11

Well, I don’t want to write this, but I guess I should to tell you how things are going here in Christchurch.

Last week, the government finally produced its plan for Christchurch. As you know, some parts of Christchurch were particularly badly affected, and the worst areas were in our area. Anyway, the Government and EQC (Earthquake Commission) have divided the residential parts of Christchurch into zones, as they did with the commercial parts of the city. There is the red zone, where the areas are to be abandoned and the houses demolished, the green zone, where people are now cleared to start repairing and rebuilding, the orange zone, which is a sort of holding zone requiring further assessment, where people will eventually be put into either the red or green zones, and the white zone, which is the hillside districts which were considered okay until the twin earthquakes of the 13th June sent boulders down into people’s houses – they are also awaiting further assessment.

So last Wednesday we (my sister Claire, our friend Amelia and I) were at Claire’s place packing up. Claire’s house had been written off (more on that later) after the earthquakes of 13th June and Amelia’s house was written off after the first earthquake in September last year. It had subsequently been “reprieved” twice before finally (I think) been written off a third time. We listened as the death knell was rung for our suburbs (at present they are only dealing with the red zone as we were the most badly affected). The government has given us two options – we can sell our entire property to the government at 2007 rating values (which is not a bad value as the market was high then, it subsequently dropped but is now at similar levels to those of 2007) or we can sell the land to the government at 2007 rating value and continue to deal with our insurance companies for the rebuilding of a new house. People like mum (and me) have no option but to take the first option and sell our property to the government. Our house has suffered only minor structural damage and although we have full replacement insurance the insurance company will not pay out full replacement because the earthquake did not destroy our property, our property is being destroyed because of government action, just like when the government buys out an owner when they want to build a new motorway, or something of that sort. As I mentioned, the rating value is quite fair, but of course it’s a generic value and does not take into account the condition of the property, and mum has always maintained the house to a high standard. Looking at the real estate websites, we could replace our house, but the houses in comparable areas for 2007 prices would require a lot of work to bring it up to comparable standard. To replace like for like it would cost I estimate another $30,000-$40,000. I will be able to get this from insurance policies, but of course there will be many people chasing the same housing stock, so prices will go up. Our best bet is an “over 60’s unit” which are often very nice, but small and often so close together that, as mum puts it, you can look out of your living room window straight into your neighbour’s living room window”. But we are the lucky ones.

For people like Amelia and Claire, whose houses have been written off, if they have full replacement insurance, they should get under their insurance policy, a new house to replace the written off house. It sounds good, but they have to buy the land for the new house, and where they lived the land was cheap, so in both cases they and their husbands would have to get a mortgage of about $100,000 and as Claire says “a mortgage of $100,000 at our age (50’s) – that’s huge”. Amelia’s husband says he is tempted just to rent until he retires and then buy a little holiday home (although of course the rental market has also been restricted by the earthquake and rent will go sky high – it already has). Claire I think has persuaded Douglas just to buy an existing house, rather than rebuild, and in any event her insurers, like Amelia’s did, have now changed their mind and said – oh no, it’s not a write-off, it’s just 95% on the way to a write-off!! So the rebuild option is probably off the table.

Now, this sounds like a litany of complaints, but we know we are fortunate in that we come from a country where you can actually insure the land, and not just the building on the land, and we know that it is the spiritual things that are important. We have 9 months to decide which option we will take, and then a further year before we need to leave our property, so it is not as though we have to go tomorrow. But we know our communities’ days are numbered – we meet our neighbours on street corners and ask one another where they are going, and I have seen a neighbour who is leaving sooner just walking around the neighbourhood, “enjoying it while I can”. (Many of the areas were/are beautiful, being by a lake (us), a river (us, Amelia and Claire) and the sea (Amelia and Claire) – it is the water that was our downfall as the land spread back towards the water, the land sunk and suddenly our homes were below sea level, but the more inland places were more stable).

So, our congregation – well, I do not think it will survive, I think it will be merged with a neighbouring congregation, although they may redraw the boundaries. Many have already gone, and a large part of our territory will also be demolished. Quite a few have gone to the country surrounding, which in theory attracts both mum and I, but mum naturally would like to be closer to the rest of the family, so I suspect we will be staying in Christchurch. Our bible study conductor said he had a list “covered with red dots” for those of us that have to go.

Well, this has been a long and meandering email, for which I apologise – but I think it probably needs to be to set out how things are. We had quite a good headline in the paper the other day – “earthquakes, ash [from the South American volcano] and now the moon goes dark” (the partial eclipse).

3/6/12

I thought it was time I put pen to paper and told you some good news at last – from the 15th June we will have a new house (well new to us, it’s actually a little older and a little smaller than our present one, and I have had to encash all my NZ pensions to buy it, but we think we will be happy there. The neighbourhood is similar to the one we are leaving and several people from our immediate neighbourhood are going to Mairehau.) It will be a relief to have somewhere to go when we have to leave our home, but it seems so wrong that we have to leave a relatively undamaged home on relatively undamaged land, so that our home and all around it can be demolished when there is such a shortage of property in Christchurch because of the earthquakes that people are living in their cars, living in garages, living 3 families in the one house.

Our new address is not too far from our present house – well, 2 suburbs away, but still in the same area. I wanted to stay in NE Christchurch and support the area, or go back to the UK. The latter was just a pipe dream. It isn’t that I am afraid of the earthquakes, but initially after a natural disaster there was much community spirit and pulling together. Now however that has worn off and the worst sides of people are coming out – landlords are putting up rents so that the poorest people are being pushed out onto the streets, land prices are going up so high that even the people whose homes are rebuilds and have had insurance payouts cannot afford the land to put their new houses on. Amelia is in that position. Their home was a rebuild, so they should have got a nice new house from their insurance company. But it is the government that pays out on the land and the price they paid was so low that they could not buy more land without getting a bigger mortgage. They already had a large mortgage and Amelia’s husband not unnaturally did not want a larger one, and the banks are not lending willy nilly anymore, so they paid off their existing mortgage, bought a mobile home and now live in a caravan park. Then there is the nastiness of people – there are poorer areas and wealthier areas all over Christchurch, but the media represented it as the disadvantaged areas were the worst hit by the earthquakes. So now it is our fault that we were badly hit – we spent all our money on cigarettes, alcohol and gambling and if we had saved we could have afforded to buy on the other side of town. It is not that people wanted to buy by the river because of the lovely views, it is that we wasted our money and could not afford to build on the other side of town, and why should they support us. I’m not quite sure how they are supporting us, they pay full rates, we pay full rates but do not get the services because our areas are being demolished. I think it is because some people are saying the rates for the people in destroyed homes should have their rates reduced, and they are kicking up about that. Anyway, I’m homesick for the UK – as I said, it’s not the earthquakes, it’s what we are becoming in our struggle to survive. I miss the spirituality, even though I am aware that what we are going through is common following a natural disaster – no matter where you are.

26/6/12

Dear Tom and Hazel,

Thank you for your email. I think of you both every day as I pass your house on the way to work, and think how ridiculous it is when there is so much homelessness in Christchurch that all those nice houses like yours and Rebecca’s are standing empty. I noticed this morning that your lawn is still looking nicely tended, as is the garden. You are missed.

Jack’s family came in the weekend and cleared some of the flat out. It’s looking rather lonely too.

We officially took possession of our new home on the 15th. We are having a few things done – wallpaper in one room, carpets cleaned etc, but it will probably not be long before we move in. As I imagine you feel, it is an emotional roller coaster. One minute you look forward to furnishing your new home, garden etc, then you think home is Queensbury Street. I imagine we’ll go through that for a while, although Claire tells us you feel better once you have your own things around you. Our new neighbour in the back flat is a very nice person, same age as mum, friendly and helpful. The street is a nice suburban street and we think we will be happy there, as I think we mentioned.

Sue and James have bought a place in Woolston (as you may know) and if the photos on Trademe are anything to go by it is very nice indeed. Newer and bigger than Queensbury Street, below RV and in the yellow zone. They have done very well.

We’ve still heard nothing from Tower, although we’ve long been resigned to having to take the government house and land offer. Had a standard letter from Roger Sutton on Saturday to those of us who still haven’t sold reminding us we only have until August 19th to do so. I thought the timing could have been better since the 22nd was a year to the day since we were all red zoned.

It’s lovely to hear that your house is coming on nicely. It must be a relief to be moving on, especially with family nearby. I must confess that just having somewhere to go to is a great relief. Just being able to think about something other than the house, the insurance, the costs of everything is a weight off your mind and you don’t have to be so selfish – it must feel wonderful for you up there, even with heavy colds – and yes, I think it will be the stress and the moving as well.

Goodness, this email sounds a bit down – but as I mentioned, sometimes we feel quite optimistic about things, and obviously that will get better as time goes on.

We are looking forward to hearing how things progress with your new house and your new neighbourhood.

29/7/12

Dear Tom and Hazel

I hope everything is going well with you, and that your new house is progressing well.

Things move along here at I guess an increasing rate, certainly in respect of the demolitions. Caroline’s house is now gone and Charles’ place now has the fencing around it signifying, probably, that demolition is imminent. On a positive side however the white wooden house near the corner on the other side of the road is being relocated, so that’s a plus. You might have seen your old street on 3 News last night – the police have been having practice sessions in the area, and they warned us about rifle fire and pyrotechnics. I haven’t seen the pyrotechnics but there are certainly quite a few booms.

15 Aug 2012

We were thinking of you folks on Monday, the weather was awful, our old house was coming down and you had to move out, we just hope that all went well for you both and that you are settling in nicely to your new home. Believe me we used to think Rebecca was exaggerating when she said her new place was only second best, we can now understand what she meant and so will you for a long while to come, we have a lovely new home but seeing our old place come down hurt both of us terribly its something we worked hard for and so have you, the hard part to accept is that it wasn’t our choice to move but Mother Earths.

love to you both and take care

Tom and Hazel

16/8/12

Dear Tom and Hazel

Yes, Monday was indeed a horrible day. When I woke up I said even the sky is crying. We loved your house, even my sister was upset. Now your house and your lovely garden is gone. Those people are Philistines; surely they can keep some garden as well as trees. I feel the same about the lovely cottage garden of Mr and Mrs Audley down the road.

On the Wednesday before we left mum was visited by people from Orion. They had been going to permanently cut off the power when they saw she was still there. She told them we were moving on Monday so they said they would come back on Tuesday. I said to mum they cannot cut off our power, we have not settled yet (and we are letting someone stay there until we do settle). I contacted Orion and pointed out that we had not settled. They apologised, said they would not cut off the power permanently, but when Claire and I came back on Tuesday, they were in the process of doing so. Hopefully they will not try again. It is still our property until April next year, although I have signed the Agreement for Sale and Purchase now.

Our new house is nice. It is smaller than our Queensbury Street house, but I think we are lucky all the same. The neighbourhood seems similar to Queensbury Street and I keep noticing similarities – makes me feel better I suppose. There is a park nearby, and a creek at the end of the street which we didn’t know about when we bought, but it is small and I like it. The house stood up well to the earthquakes, the land is TC2 and the water nearby does not phase me.

Love to you both,

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