Frustration in New Zealand a year after deadly quake | Connect Asia

Frustration in New Zealand a year after deadly quake

Frustration in New Zealand a year after deadly quake

Updated 22 February 2012, 12:06 AEDT

February 22 marks the first anniversary of the deadly earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, which claimed the lives of 185 people including dozens of Asian students studying in the city.

One year on, the mood in the worst-affected suburbs has turned from shock and grief to anger and frustration.

When New Zealand correspondent Dominique Schwartz visited Bexley in the east of the city in February last year, it was a hive of activity as people worked to clear the damage.

Today it's a ghostly suburb, largely empty of people except for the demolishers.

Presenter: Dominique Schwartz

Speakers: Caroline Mehlhopt, Bexley resident; Sue Holmes, Bexley resident; Bruce Coffey, Salvation Army's earthquake recovery manager

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: It takes a long time to build a dream home and pack it with memories but only minutes to bring it to the ground.

(Sound of demolition equipment)

CAROLINE MEHLHOPT: Oh it's very sad, very sad indeed to think that, you know, we thought we'd spend the rest of our life here and now it's gone.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: For Bexley resident Caroline Mehlhopt, watching the demolition of her home was gut-wrenching but, she says, necessary.

CAROLINE MEHLHOPT: With the closure of seeing this I think a big load feels like it's lifted off me and I'll be able to just hopefully move on completely now.

By April next year everyone in the eastern suburb of Bexley will have to have moved on. The 1,000 household community is being abandoned, the ground too damaged to support anything other than the marshland it once was.

Across Christchurch nearly 7,000 homes are slated for demolition. Three thousand households are still waiting for a verdict.

SUE HOLMES: I feel like it's in the Twilight Zone. It's a nightmare and one day I'm going to wake up.

But part of me really knows I'm not.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: Bexley resident Sue Holmes and her husband live in Seabreeze Close, a street of about 40 houses. Only three are still occupied. There's no sewerage system, just a portaloo in the front yard. Not even the postman calls anymore.

The couple feels isolated and forgotten by the council, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the government.

SUE HOLMES: Sack the lot of them. There's no help around here. There's no nothing. So what on earth are they doing for their money?

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: Thousands of other Christchurch residents feel the same way and have recently taken to the streets in protest. Rally organisers say residents are being forced to accept low payouts for their house and land, only to pay a premium for a new property - if they can find one in a market flooded with red zone refugees.

Sue Holmes estimates she and her husband will be out of pocket $100,000 by the time they rebuild.

SUE HOLMES: In some ways we're very lucky, we've got a good insurance company. But there's some people here that can never afford to rebuild with what their insurance companies have given them.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: Children too are suffering.

BRUCE COFFEY: Our local school just that we're working in, 20 children on one day reported sick to the sick bay because they were displaying signs of stress and tension.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: Bruce Coffey, the Salvation Army's earthquake recovery manager, says the quakes have created an emerging middle-class poor, people who now pick up food hampers from the Salvos rather than the gourmet isles of the supermarket.

Tomorrow's quake anniversary will be a landmark but only one on a long road to recovery.

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