Reality hits home as clean-up begins

Mark Iddles does not know what will happen to his tattoo business, which was crumpled with this...
Mark Iddles does not know what will happen to his tattoo business, which was crumpled with this row of shops in Barbadoes St.
The trauma of losing a home in earthquake-ravaged Christchurch is taking an increasingly emotional toll on residents, some of whom are facing days, or weeks, of living without the basics, coping with contaminated tap water and failed sewerage services.

The 7.1-magnitude earthquake caused damage to homes, buildings and infrastructure, the cost of which could reach $2 billion, and left thousands homeless.

Authorities say it could be weeks before all damage is assessed and people can return to their homes.

Many condemned homes will never be lived in again and face demolition.

Parts of central Christchurch were being reopened last night after Saturday's massive tremor, but weary residents face ongoing disruption as schools, public buildings and many businesses remain closed.

Much of the central city remains cordoned off, but engineers have made progress inspecting about 500 damaged buildings.

"Basically, just a few streets, the area that is cordoned will just be smaller," Christchurch City Council spokeswoman Rachel Graham said last night.

Visitors were urged to stay away for at least a week, unless absolutely necessary, as the city comes to terms with its severely-damaged infrastructure, Civil Defence says.

Forecast bad weather held off in Christchurch yesterday, allowing hundreds of workers, those who had lost their homes in the quake, and some who had lost their livelihoods, to get on with cleaning up rubble, silt and water.

Mayor Bob Parker warned fatigue was setting in for people who had been working since the quake struck at 4.36am on Saturday.

He thanked the "heroes and heroines" who had been continuing with their tasks.

The state of emergency in the city will be reassessed today, but the mayor believes it might need to be extended. .

The 7pm-to-7am curfew remains in force in central Christchurch, with police warning the area is dangerous because of earthquake damage.

Up to 20% of the city is still without drinkable water. Householders everywhere are being advised to boil water.

The mood in the city was strange. Everywhere there were rubber-neckers, smiling, pointing and taking photos. In the city they were on foot, in the country they were driving. All over they were causing traffic jams.

One Kaiapoi resident also told Radio New Zealand that the constant flow of sightseers was distressing residents, and urged people to stay away.

Other residents dealing with the aftermath of the quake did not notice them, as, in many cases, the stark reality of what lay before them finally began to sink in.

On Barbadoes St, Mark Iddles surveyed the remains of his tattoo parlour.

His home, about five minutes' drive away, was unscathed, but his business was demolished, along with half a dozen more in that block.

From the street, he could see all of his equipment still inside the remains of the building, but could not get to it, nor knew if anyone else could. He did not know who to call, no-one had called him, and he had no idea when the building would be demolished.

"We have no idea what's going to happen. It's just bizarre," he said, as he turned to go home.

In Bexley, one the worst-hit suburbs, Vanessa Callaghan held on to daughter Lucy (9 months) and tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back tears as friends packed all her worldly belongings into the garage after the quake bent and twisted her house and then filled it with silt.

She had kept her composure for 36 hours.

"Today was the first time I cried."

Almost all of the residents on her street in the new subdivision have been left homeless, after their houses were ripped apart and up to 60cm of silt flowed through them.

Vanessa and her family have nowhere to go, and thinking about the future brings tears. A stranger, a friend of a friend, has offered them a garage to store some of their belongings, but they have no idea where they are going to put the rest of their things.

They stayed with friends last night, but their future is unclear.

And Vanessa is only one of many.

Red Cross workers said people staying at shelters at Linwood College, Burnside High School, Addington Raceway and Brooklands were just realising the enormity of the quake damage.

The shelters looked after about 250 people on Saturday night, and about the same number last night.

Yanni Tromp, who was running the Red Cross emergency centre at Linwood College, said the trauma was reducing many people to tears.

She said in the first few hours after the earthquake, people were dealing with the practicalities of getting food and shelter, but yesterday it was dawning on them they would have to find somewhere else to live if their homes were demolished or would takes weeks to repair.

"It is starting to sink in. We are starting to see more nervous and upset people."

Across the street from the Callaghans, Maxine and Barrie Smith had decided to stay in their home one more night, before moving out for good. They bought the new house, with a stunning view of the estuary, four years ago. On Saturday morning they lost it all.

Mr Smith described feeling the concrete base of the house breaking up under his feet as he ran up the hall to save his granddaughter, who lay in bed paralysed by fear just 1m from a yawning gap that had just swallowed up the clothesline.

Once outside he heard a roar, like thunder, and then every crack that had opened up inside and outside the house exploded in eruptions of silt in a dramatic liquification.

The Smiths were expecting their house, and probably at least 30 others in their street and nearby, would have to be condemned.

Still, they remained upbeat.

"It's just that you feel like you've got this nice house and you're all set, and then it's gone, just like that. But we've got insurance, so you just have to get on with it."

Although they were concerned about looting - a neighbour already had to scare off a suspicious-looking character in a van the night after the quake -they could not stay in the house and would start looking for a rental property this morning, while they thought about where to buy a new house.

Three streets away, Mike Hart was shovelling silt out of his parents' garden.

The silt had not got into houses there, but the quake moved sheds and garages, and dislodged water pipes and drains from houses.

They had no idea how long it would be before they had water or sewerage connections again.

They were using a plastic bag suspended in the toilet and throwing it out, but portable toilets had been promised. They had hoped to see them yesterday.

"It's like being in a Third-World country. You really don't know what you've got until it's gone," Mr Hart's stepfather, Ian Gardiner, said.

One positive aspect was it had brought the community together.

Everyone had been bringing each other water, helping out any way they could.

"It's one way to get to know your neighbours."

At the epicentre, near Kirwee, there are cracks big enough for small children to jump into.

A continuous stream of small children did that, as nervous parents, out to have a look for themselves, stood by.

Local farmer Peter Fitzgerald seemed almost proud of his once-flat, now rolling paddocks and wonky fence and tree lines.

"That fence was straight, that road was straight, those trees were in a straight line. The entire earth has just moved a couple of metres that way," he said.

"It's incredible."

The quake left a 20km-long faultline that runs right through nearby greyhound trainer Craig Roberts' house.

Mr Roberts was remarkably cheery about the fact his house was split in half by the quake.

"There's no point in stressing. If I did that I'd be screwed. I'd go crazy."

He was even planning to build a new house on the same spot.

"We had some big cheese geologist come round and they said this fault-line won't go again for at least 100 years."

His family planned to rent a house until they could rebuild.

His biggest concern was how to keep his greyhound business going for the next six months.

He joined other stock owners in the area, particularly dairy farmers in the middle of calving, who were struggling without water or power supplies.

"We've got 25 dogs who need fed and [their kennels] cleaned out every day, which is proving a bit of a challenge without water. But we are getting through it. People have been giving us a hand and we've got family around. That's great, but it's not something I'd like to do again."

- Additional reporting by NZPA

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