Christchurch earthquake: Bexley's heartache starts all over again

By Catherine Masters

Zara Phillips and her 9-year-old son Caleb Quinn Phillips have not been able to get to their Bexley home. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Zara Phillips and her 9-year-old son Caleb Quinn Phillips have not been able to get to their Bexley home. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The people left in Bexley, a Christchurch suburb drowned by liquefaction after September's earthquake, grabbed spades and started again, shovelling and scraping at the charcoal grey sludge which clung to their homes, driveways and roads.

The day dawned warm and clear after the rain and chill weather which set in after Tuesday's quake and people seemed almost upbeat.

Their cheery smiles belied the heartache of homes once again knocked and cracked so soon after the chaos caused by quake number one.

"At least it's not raining," said one woman over her bent fence as we progressed deeper into a suburb where roads were flooded and many houses were empty.

Many of these abandoned houses are where "sand volcanoes" spurted a mix of sand and water up from the earth at what residents say was an alarming speed, raining down sludge and flooding homes.

Crooked and cracked homes have been without services - no power and no running water - since the earthquake.

The liquefaction, people say, is worse than that of the September quake, which was bad enough.

A lot of underground services, such as for water and sewage, are smashed.

At the bottom of Cheriton St, where the water laps the pavement, three residents yell warnings as the occasional car tries to drive through, unaware of huge sink holes concealed by the water.

And up the road, Zara Phillips can't manoeuvre her son Caleb Quinn's wheelchair through the flood to get to her house.

So she's staying with a friend who lives nearby on the no longer very aptly named Eureka St.

Her house is such a mess anyway, it will take months to clean up, the single mum of two boys says. She's too scared to go home.

The ramp for 9-year-old-Caleb Quinn's wheelchair is really dodgy and her house is falling down.

Caleb has cerebral palsy and can't speak, but lets his mum know how terrified he is every time there's an aftershock.

"This guy keeps having fits when there's big ones, some of them you can calm him down from but there are some where he gets stuck in the fit.

"He's got two types, one where he can see you and he looks at you and it's like 'oh my god, stop this' and the other where his eyes are going as well and his whole body's just gone with it."

They were lucky, though, she said.

She, Caleb Quinn and other son Xavier Taylor were alive and okay, then she says "we're just waiting for names."

Zara Phillips has lived in Christchurch her whole life and expects to know some of the dead.

Now, she and the other Bexley residents are just trying to get through one day at a time, or as one man said, "wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow."

Wednesday was simply horrible, Zara Phillips said.

People from outside Bexley were driving through, not looting but looking for water.

There were rubberneckers too.

She says you can tell those who don't belong - "They drive around in their locked cars and they don't say shit to you and they've got a map".

But they were risking toppling into the sink holes, she said.

She saw a tow truck towing a Jeep go into a hole and, when another tow truck was called to pull the first out, the Jeep was flung into the hole as well.

"It's just craziness," she said.

She is talking quickly, as many in this badly affected suburb do.

The adrenalin of what happened to them has not yet worn off and they are on a kind of disaster high, a mix of horror at what happened and relief they are okay.

Zara Phillips was in a $2 shop in Brighton when the earthquake struck and ignored the smashing glass windows to "run like a bitch through all this slush and water to get to my son at school ...

"I picked up an old lady who fell in front of me, made sure she was okay and just ran."

She got to the Brighton Bridge, now closed off with big cracks, and ran across it while it was still moving.

The she ran through water and sludge to reach Caleb Quinn who was at St James School in Bexley.

"I remember running through Brighton and there were people still on the floor, there were people hugging each other."

On another street, resident Donna Jackson was bright and friendly and summed up why locals were smiling through their pain:

"Because we're not dead," she said.

- NZ Herald

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