This afternoon the Christchurch region was shaken by a magnitude 4-point-one aftershock - strong enough to keep the feeling of apprehension rolling through the quake-damaged region of Canterbury.
It's not been a great Christmas for many in the earthquake zone... but one group has volunteered to be there... They're known as the Farmy Army or Student Volunteer Army.
The group is helping residents clean up their latest quake damage.
Speaker:Sam Johnson, organiser, Student Volunteer Army
JOHNSON: It was a two-day operation and yesterday we had between 350 and 400 volunteers of all ages and all different backgrounds who came out to help with mainly removing silt caused by liquefaction in the eastern side of Christchurch. Today was an operation that was run very much by our online portal and our website, which is svaid.org.nz, where people can log on, register that they need assistance and volunteers log on and agree to help with that assistance and go to specific addresses and help with those needs.
ABBOTT: So it's a bit of misnomer to call it a Student Volunteer Army if you have people of all ages there helping?
JOHNSON: Well the name is where the organisation comes from, so back in September last year I started this Facebook page, which was the student volunteer army, and after the February earthquake we had around nine-thousand students to volunteer, roughly 75 to 80-thousand volunteer hours over a period of a month to help clean-up a lot of the liquefaction that was caused by our most severe earthquake that killed 181 people in Christchurch. So the Farmy Army is a group from the Federated Farmers, and they're very much now moving forward, it's the busiest time of year for farmers and a lot of the students are away from Christchurch because the central city has been largely destroyed, there's not a lot happening over the summer period there. So a lot of people have moved around the rest of the south island and around New Zealand where we as a city you never even realised that there is a major disaster centre nearby.
ABBOTT: This is not your first experience of a quake in Christchurch, so how bad was the extra damage from last Friday?
JOHNSON: It's still very difficult to tell exactly what the extra damage is in terms of the council infrastructure and what's been done. But certainly the damage to residents' homes is significant. I live on the good side of Christchurch in many ways, it's the western side of Christchurch that hasn't been affected to the same magnitude that the eastern side is. So the eastern side has very much sunk away and there's a lot of liquefaction, and every time an earthquake sort of happens over about a magnitude 5, there seems to be the liquefaction process and it still just bubbles up around everyone's homes, that needs to be taken away. So there's a definite strip of land that's been hugely affected again, and it's the psychological damage, the fact that we don't know when it's going to end and it's startling, it's frightening and there are the series of aftershocks that come with it. Thankfully a lot of us are used to the aftershocks and actually they're not widely felt outside of Christchurch. So we're really sort of saying to people is that the south island is the place to visit, it's still absolutely fantastic and honestly you would not even know that there's been an earthquake if you drive around half of Christchurch, except for there's no chimneys anywhere. And as you go further over to the eastern suburbs and particularly in two or three suburbs there is this liquefaction everywhere. And together with the central city, which is completely destroyed.
ABBOTT: Sam I reckon you're pretty much a layman, although you've had earthquake experience before, but for people who've never been in an earthquake and never heard the word "liquefaction" before the three quakes in Christchurch, can you explain precisely what it is and what damage does it do?
JOHNSON: Sure the liquefaction is a process that happens with large magnitude of earthquake hits. The best way to describe it is if you had a box of sand and you put a brick on top and you shake the box of sand the brick sinks. There's much more technical explanations, my apologies for any incorrectness, but it's pretty much the shaking of the earth causes the soil and the sand to mix with the water and any objects on top tend to sink down a wee bit, which bubbles up this liquefaction on site, and it's as the earth compacts and the heavier soils fall down it pushes up this through every cracks and crevices, this mucky, silty sandy sort of gunky stuff that really just completely isolates homes, and particularly for elderly and vulnerable people it's very difficult to get rid of it. It's heavy, it's muddy, and it's often full of sewerage. And so it's a process that keeps happening, and it's extremely disheartening and if it's happened to your property four or five, six times since last September, each time taking a good team of 20 volunteers to shovel it out.
ABBOTT: Does it mean that the property is no longer habitable, do you have to wipe out that section of land, or does the soil and it compacts down and it returns to the way it was when they built their houses there, 10, 15, 20 years ago?
JOHNSON: It's largely mixed throughout Christchurch; we have red zones, orange zones and green zones. If you're green zone you're good to build again, and it's financially viable and economically viable to rebuild your house and to remediate that land. If you're red zone it means the land is unstable and there is a large portion of Christchurch that has now been rezoned, and the residents get a pay-out from the government for the value of their homes based on 2007 valuations, and then they are able to move off and the government has that land, and that will get demolished. The people in the orange zone is where the land is insure, they haven't worked out which zone it's going to be. And the unfortunate thing about this series of earthquakes is that it puts all these tests and all these mechanisms right back to the start again. We have to fully reassess the land, we have to fully reassess the hill suburbs, we have to go and reassess all the underground infrastructure; your water and power and sewerage and really start from scratch again to examine the damage that was caused together with the damage caused to individual households. We're very fortunate in New Zealand to have earthquake insurance, which you pay a levy for each year, so your house will get fixed if you have insurance. Now these assessments are timely and it does take a while to get the assessors to come around, and of course now after another series of shakes they have to come back again. It's a lengthy and drawn out process and one does make people struggle to get back to any sense of normality.
ABBOTT: Ok getting back to the sense of normality for people is clearly difficult because the quakes keep happening and fairly large ones. How would you describe the feeling of people in Christchurch in the worst affected areas? Have they settled down after Friday's quake, or is there still a little bit of panic?
JOHNSON: I think the timing just before Christmas really couldn't have been worse. I mean we all just had so much hope, we were really just excited, you know we thought the quakes had ended and we thought we were back to some level of normality. And they were horrific, they were really, really petrifying for many people. It reminds you back to those events and it reminds you of all those emotions. So there is a feeling of real despair, people aren't sure when are these things are going to stop, when can we get on with our lives? And as an old elderly chap said to me on the street this morning, we're not living here, we're just existing, we don't feel a purpose in life anymore, which was very sad. Though I think in broader Christchurch there is still that sense of hope. That for me as a 22-year old who is very much involved in the earthquake, it's an opportunity. We have an earthquake city, equally we have this opportunity to build this city again, how a city should be and build it in the right way and there's a lot of hope and excitement and there are a lot of opportunities around, particularly for young people at the moment.