– Fendalton Road, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

Reading in the paper today (9 June 2014) that you would like copies of E mails sent after the quakes, I have been back and looked at a couple I sent- one a month afterwards and one at Christmas 2011. It is interesting how little has changed

25/3/2011

Dear friends,

I am writing to say thank you to all of you who have emailed written, called and even sent survival parcels (Thanks very much Janet!). We all really appreciate it, especially as some of you have really come out of the woodwork and made a great effort to stay in touch. At times like this you realize yet again that family and friends are the only important things in life and we feel blessed to have such great friends.

It is 4 1/2 weeks since the earthquake and life has returned somewhat to normal- or rather what will pass for it in the next few years. It is going to take a long time for our beautiful city to recover.

So, we are amongst the lucky ones. We lost power for a few hours and still have to boil our water but we have a loo and can shower and have a roof over our heads. Many parts of Christchurch still don’t have running water and sewerage. The kids are back at school this week after a 4 week break. Their school is one of the safest buildings in Christchurch we are told. However we still had liquefaction all over the playing fields, a couple of buildings have been pulled down and some are out of bounds. Some schools in Christchurch are site sharing ie one school has the kids go there in the morning from 8-1 and the other school goes on the afternoon from 1-6pm. Not easy with teenagers.

I have been able to work right through but some practices have had to close and relocate. One practice will probably not be able to go back to their building for 2 years because it is close to the Grand Chancellor. It is a big hotel that didn’t collapse and kill anyone but is on a decided lean and they are trying to work out how to bring it down as safely as possible and with the least disruption possible.

The first couple of weeks at work we were actually quiet as lots of people left town. We sent lots of scripts all over the country and saw people from the badly damaged areas that couldn’t get to their own doctor. Now we are getting busy again and starting to see lots of people who are quite traumatized. What do you say to someone who has lost their house and their business? Or the 40 year old who went to 5 funerals last week? Or someone so anxious they can’t sleep in their house? And none of this is going to go away soon- we are in for a long and difficult winter.

People are trying to get back into normal routines but it is hard. A trip to take Ella to dancing that normally takes 15 minutes can take up to an hour. The roads through town are all closed so the traffic jams are huge as cars try to go around the city. Some roads are down to one lane because the other lane has subsided into the river. There are huge potholes and bumps, a bit like moguls on a skifield that you have to drive slowly over or you damage your car. It looks like a war zone.

The central city is still cordoned off and there are soldiers and tanks at checkpoints if you want to get in. Many business owners haven’t been allowed back in yet to get essential items such as computers and files because Civil Defence still say it is too dangerous. I think they are trying their best but the communication is poor and the business community is getting very frustrated and even protesting. Because we haven’t been allowed into the city it is hard to grasp the scale of the damage and how dangerous it really is. Most of the lawyers, accountants and dentists in town have had to relocate. They are now out in the suburbs in people’s houses or have had to take long term leases on buildings that were previously struggling to be filled. So the CBD may never look the same again.

Many of our best restaurants were in town and have been pulled down already. A good friend of ours who owns a Swiss French restaurant still can’t get into her building. She doesn’t know what shape it is in and can’t get her knives, pots etc out until civil defence say she can. Stories abound about all the decaying food left behind when everyone fled and what the rats are up to now! Our friend says she will return to Switzerland if her building is pulled down because a lot of her customers are tourists and they won’t be visiting a restaurant in the suburbs.

Our Insurance company is fantastic but they can’t go ahead with helping people until the properties have been assessed by EQC.(Earthquake commission) They are running a rapid assessment programme to get round every house in CHCH in the next 2 months. That will be a quick look to see if there is structural damage and give people an idea of when they will assessed properly. The times frames will be in the next 4 months, 4-6 months or 6-9 months. We still haven’t been seen from the first earthquake so are not getting our hopes up.

For those of us who love this city and have an investment in it it isn’t an option to up and leave. I have a successful business that I’m not prepared to walk away from. We chose to bring our children up here for many reasons and most of those still stand. They are currently circulating a book for people to sign a pledge as a commitment to staying and help rebuild the city. Last Friday we attended the Memorial Service in Hagley Park- it was controversial as not all the dead have been identified and they made it a public holiday when small businesses are already struggling. We went with the girls as we thought it was important for them to be part of it. It was a stunning day and a huge turn out for a somber but lovely service. It was great to be able to give a standing ovation to the USAR teams. The Urban Search and Rescue guys have all risked their lives to help people and make our city safe. Some of them had just been allowed a day off when the tragedy in Japan happened and they went over there to help. There are some amazing stories of bravery and sacrifice emerging- everyone has a tale to tell.

It was important to acknowledge as well that many of those who died were visitors to the city- tourists or students at the language school who were trying to learn English to be able to come and work here. As our Mayor Bob Parker said we will need a fitting memorial to these people in the future as well as our own. It was also great to see the large numbers of young people attending. Many of them had helped shovel silt etc as part of the Student Army and they are a real credit to our city and to New Zealand.

Well that’s probably enough raving on from me now. If you made it through this far thanks for letting me be self indulgent- just felt a need to get it off my chest. We are still staying at my parents as they don’t have cracks and have gone away for a couple of weeks. However we will be moving back home next weekend and I am looking forward to it. We have had a structural engineer assess it and they say it is well built and won’t fall down, just looks like it might! So if anyone is foolhardy enough to want to visit CHCH we have a bed!

Love to you all,

———-

Christmas Greetings 2011

Dear friends and family,

As 2011 draws to a close all of us in Christchurch draw a deep breath and look back on a year full of mixed emotions. When I wrote the Christmas epistle last year we were recovering from a 7.2 earthquake, uncertain about our house but starting to accept that things would improve in 2011 and that we could come through it. The mantra was “at least nobody died” and we were confident that a better year lay ahead. Our family went to Australia for Christmas 2010 and had a lovely break. We came back refreshed and the school year started well. It all changed on February 22nd. We were hit by a 6.3 aftershock that caused widespread devastation, more than 180 deaths and changed our city forever.

Since then it has been a year full of hardship, heart break, fatigue. Our sense of the world has been replaced by uncertainty- familiar landmarks have gone, amenities such as supermarkets, petrol stations, restaurants have disappeared or been relocated. Routes we used to travel regularly are now clogged with traffic and some have been closed or changed. The roads are full of bumps that threaten to damage your car. We are all experts on “liquefaction”, guessing the magnitude of an aftershock, and “geonet” is the favourite website. Schools have had to share sites so some pupils go in the morning and some in the afternoon. All schools were closed for 4 weeks or more so valuable teaching time has been lost. Countless offices of lawyers, accountants and businesses have relocated to the suburbs- often people are working from the boss’s house or are split between sites, crammed into unsuitable offices with poor facilities. The libraries have all been closed, our water is still chlorinated and there is still a cordon round the centre of town that we aren’t allowed to go beyond. Many of our heritage buildings have been pulled down leaving empty lots- it is already hard to remember what was there before. The Cathedral- the symbol of our city, the library I went to as a kid, the Provincial Chambers Buildings where we were married… all damaged and all have an uncertain future.

The major aftershocks in June were another blow- 2 in one day- and the second was bigger- that wasn’t meant to happen. The psychological effects have been huge- children still sleeping with their parents, countless people accessing free counselling, needing sleeping pills, some needing antidepressants. Insurance woes have set in- no-one can rebuild because the insurers can’t get reinsurance so everyone is stuck in limbo. Now many areas of the city have been classified as “Green-Blue” needing further information about what sort of foundations are needed before rebuilding can start. Many people in the eastern suburbs have been classified “Red” meaning they have to leave their homes- the government has offered to buy their properties at valuation prices from 2007- for some that is a huge relief and for others they will be out of pocket. But what other country in the world would offer such compensation?

Snow in July closed schools and businesses twice. Our poodle Bosco who joined our family in April was run over in June-the morning of the big aftershocks. The Gods were laughing at us that day. But there have been some bright points and as an optimist I have to hope that we can all come through it. We have a new sense of community and what it means to have friends. That is far more important than material possessions. Favourite restaurants have re-opened in all sorts of places and gained new clientele. Our gym has closed but a group of us still meet at a local park twice a week to do our own version of a circuit. even in minus 2deg in the middle of winter. The friendships have only grown as we support each other. We had a fundraising dinner for the “Court Theatre” 24 people paid to come to our house and let us cook. We raised over $2000- a small drop when over $4 million is needed but “The Shed” is opening in the suburbs for its first play next weekend. The “Restart Christchurch project opened in October for our annual Canterbury “Show Day“. Shops made from containers brightly painted, attractively arranged and safe, now fill part of one our major shopping streets and “Ballantynes” – our premier department store has reopened. People have flocked to support it- they shop, have coffee and gaze through the fences at parts of the city still out of bounds. Next weekend we are going on a bus tour that they are running inside the Red zone so we can get a sense of what has gone and grieve.

Despite it all the girls have both had good years at school- luckily they haven’t had to share their site although have had kids leave and new displaced kids arrive. They have continued to dance and Brittany has become a checkout chick at the local supermarket. Ella has earned money cleaning my surgery- with a bit of help from Mum and Dad. My work has not been badly affected- we still have a steady trickle of people leaving but others joining the practice who have moved from the other side of town.

In July we had Vaeatea join us from Tahiti for 6 weeks. We took her ski-ing, over to the French town of Akaroa and the hot pools at Hanmer Springs. So any tourists out there, there is still plenty to see and do. In October were all badly in need of a break so went to Switzerland to see our friend Bono and her family. Her restaurant in the red zone has been pulled down so she went home to earn some money and decide on her future. We are pleased to say that she is coming back in February and will be looking for a new site. We had a lovely time over there with amazing scenery, beautiful old cites and too much food. (Toblerone cooked in puff pastry anyone?)

We are lucky that we have our beautiful Hagley Park in the centre of the city. It has been the home to an arts festival with performances in tents, a wine and food festival, the Rugby World Cup Fanzone, Christmas in the Park and remains a place to walk, play sport, picnic and relax. We have the annual Buskers Festival and the Ellerslie Flower Show to look forward to next year.

The city had a Memorial Service in March- quite soon after the earthquake but part of the healing process. We appreciated the chance to join together and thank the rescuers and all the people all over New Zealand and the rest of the world who have thought of us and sent their support. We know that many elsewhere don’t understand what we are still going through and are concerned about the huge sums of money being poured into our city. However our experience has also been a wake up call for the rest of the country and a chance to make sure no other city will be as badly affected. I don’t know what sort of memorial will be erected and what will happen on the 1st anniversary in February but I am confident that despite all the challenges ahead we can make this lovely city grow and once again be a fabulous place to live.

Thanks to everyone for all the support- phone calls, letters, emails—we appreciate you all. Have a very merry Christmas and our house is still standing if anyone wants to visit.

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