Christchurch earthquake: Scenic suburbs 'no place to buy now'

By Catherine Masters

The suburb of Bexley surrounded by water following the earthquake. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The suburb of Bexley surrounded by water following the earthquake. Photo / Brett Phibbs

From the air you can see the path the enormous chunk of cliff took as it rumbled down the hill and crashed through the house.

All homes are evacuated in this scenic part of Christchurch, with the sea in front and houses on bush-clad hills with walking tracks behind.

The giant boulder shaken loose by the earthquake left indentations in the hillside then destroyed the house at Rapaki, spilling debris into the front yard.

Up at 350 metres, the result looks like a pile of woodchips with what's left of a roof.

The boulder, as big as a car, carried on through the house and travelled down until coming to a stop on the road.

The chopper pilot, Kevin Walsh, says in wonder: "Imagine if you're watching TV and that hurtles past."

On the ground, Troy Laffey looks in amazement at the holes left in his home by boulders that have tumbled down from the hilltops above, smashing a tunnel through the middle of his house and out the other side. One of them is the size of his van.

"If it had happened at night, the kids would have been in bed and down the hill with the rock ... It just seems a bit surreal that it's actually happened."

Flying over Lyttelton, Sumner and eastern suburbs including Bexley and Parklands shows the trail and variety of damage left by the quake.

At Lyttelton, the Timeball building is among the gutted.

This historic building resembles a castle, a pretty sight when viewed from a distance, sitting high against the coastal surrounds.

Up close, you see that the ball on the stone tower has somehow survived the shaking, but much of the building hasn't.

This is New Zealand's last timeball station. The ball used to be dropped at a certain time every day so ships in port could see it, which allowed navigators to set their chronometers and make sure they had accurate time.

This continued from 1876 to 1934 but the building then fell into disrepair until the 1970s, when it was restored.

Whether this once-grand remnant of a bygone age will be deemed worthy of the vast amounts of money to mend it, with such pressing needs all over town, is yet to be decided.

In Sumner, a cliff face has sheered away.

Here, another giant rock fell on the RSA, crushing two men inside.

On top of the cliff, houses have roofs which look as if they've been put together as a jigsaw, cracked and shattered.

Right around that hillside, piles of cliff face now lie at the bottom and at the top, people who had front yards don't any more.

Sumner has lovely big homes nestled into trees with sweeping sea views, but most of the residents have gone.

Again in Redcliffs, cliff faces have emptied on to houses below.

A green roof peeps out almost submerged in dirt.

We fly over a big yellow building near the sea at the bottom of a cliff which, the pilot says, has a cave at the back where they used to have functions.

That cave is buried now and he wouldn't want to get married there.

On to Mt Pleasant with still more homes evacuated because of the danger of falling rocks and where a little tent city has sprung up at the school grounds.

Look at the roof tiles, says the pilot. It's as if someone has put pinholes through them.

Over at lowland Bexley and New Brighton, the charcoal muck from liquefaction is still plain to see.

The water has receded and in some parts the sludge is drying to a fine dust.

Some streets clearly still have issues with flooding.

The pilot says if you ever want to move to Christchurch you know where not to buy.

- NZ Herald

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