Christchurch earthquake: New living hell

By David Fisher

No water, homes wrecked, but toilets are worst part of it. Photo / Geoff Sloan
No water, homes wrecked, but toilets are worst part of it. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Tears flowing down his cheeks, burly Canterbury mechanic Keith Mackie was trying to explain that life's basic necessities have been forgotten.

He was among 300 people at a community meeting in eastern Christchurch yesterday.

Mr Mackie, 54, didn't come to complain. He came to tell national civil defence controller John Hamilton of a new problem that won't go away - toilets, and what goes into them.

It's a subject that has come to consume the worst-hit suburbs.

Eight adults live in Mr Mackie's Wainoni Rd house with no water or sewerage. The power has just come back on.

"We didn't complain. We just suck it in. After nine days we got a chemical toilet. I had to empty the chemical toilet this morning - it was chock-a-block."

The nearest Port-a-Loo - a decent walk away - was filled to overflowing.

Mr Mackie, retching, drove around trying to find another one into which he could empty his chemical toilet. Again and again, he found the same problem.

"We're going to have 30,000 of these chemical toilets around and they've got to be emptied. We have to bring back night carts or something," he said.

As he spoke, it became too much and tears came. "I've seen a lot in my life, but this takes the cake."

The meeting was the first of five held in the city yesterday. About 2000 people attended, and were asked to tell officials their problems.

Fire, police, education and welfare staff were available, but their concerns were mostly about the toilets.

They did not have enough, and those that were available were too far away and were filled to overflowing.

Residents were told all but 2000 properties would have electricity by tonight, but no time could be set for restoration of water and sewerage, as the huge amount of damage underground was thwarting repair efforts.

A 4.9 magnitude aftershock struck near Kaikoura yesterday afternoon and was widely felt on the east coast of the South Island.

Further south, five shocks of magnitude 3 and stronger shook Christchurch and surrounding regions.

The Treasury yesterday put the cost of the earthquake at $15 billion and said repairs would take four years.

The death toll was 166 last night, but is still expected to rise to about 200.

Cordons were partially lifted in the central city to let residents and business owners in. Many said they would be gathering their belongings and leaving for good.

But in the suburbs, people are not leaving. Yesterday, they attended meetings to remind officials that the city centre was not the only area affected.

St Heliers Cres resident Kevin Guy said the lack of toilets and housing threatened to send the disaster out of control. "People will die of this."

He said elderly residents in his street tried to go to the toilet outside in yesterday morning's rain.

"I live near a woman in her 70s who broke down crying, too embarrassed to go to the toilet in a bucket."

Another woman who would not be named said the focus on the central city had ignored thousands of people who were living in squalid conditions.

"The dead people are important but they don't need to go to the toilet. I do."

At Waltham Park, Carol McCance was among residents critical of the 10-minute inspections Earthquake Commission officials were making of houses.

"They said it was habitable, and I've got no roof. He didn't even want to come inside and look."

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told the crowd at Waltham Park he hoped to create a walkway through the city centre this month which would allow people to see the damage and "grieve together".

- NZ Herald

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