Quake - a year on: 'When your hometown is burning, you put out the fire'

By Paul Harper

At home with the Hendersons. Photo / supplied
At home with the Hendersons. Photo / supplied

Donna and Callum Henderson and their three children returned to Sumner after spending the past three years at Auckland's Bethells Beach.

When the earthquakes devastated her hometown, Donna knew she had to return.

"It's a strange feeling. None of my Auckland friends really can understand why we came back. But when your home town is burning, you want to come down and put out the fire.

You want to come and help. Whether that is contributing through just living here and helping out at the school, helping your neighbours - we just felt we wanted to come back and be part of the rebuild.

The family returned to the city for the final school term last year for their six-year-old towards end of October last year, renting while their Scarborough Hill home was repaired.

"Around August/September last year we got approached by Fletchers to fix the house.

We were living in Auckland at the time and if our house is going to be repaired and its our biggest asset, we'll try and make a move back down there so that we can be there for that."

The family finally moved in on December 23.

"We were moving in the day those aftershocks happened. That was quite a good welcome home shake up," Donna says, referring to the magnitude 5.8 and 6 aftershocks which rocked the city.

"We thought if this is the worst that it gets then we are all going to be ok. But who knows? Who knows how bad it will get, whether it will get better or worse. The kids are pretty wary of them, we've got family plans in place as to what we're going to do."

Despite the risks of further rockfalls along the Port Hills, Donna says the family feel safe where they are.

"Scarborough Hill is the hill we live on and, relative to the other hills around here, there doesn't seem to be as much damage to the houses. Our road's pretty solid and has never been closed.

"Sumner is relatively safe down in the valley. There isn't that much damage at all. It just seems to be on the edges of cliffs that is quite unsafe. You just don't put yourself in a situation, you don't park under a cliff. You don't put yourself in any danger by going near the cliffs."

Donna describes Sumner, with its coastal setting, picture theatre and cafes, as a "Ponsonby by the sea".

"Living in Auckland you probably think it is a really s--t lifestyle down here and the ground is constantly shaking, but it is not. You might get the odd little shake every now and then ... but it is just business as usual. At the end of the day, Christchurch is very different but there still is a really good heart with the people and the place we live is just beautiful. It overlooks the ocean and there are lovely walking tracks, the lifestyle is really good here.

"Everyone is quite neighbourly. Everyone says hi, it has become really friendly. Everyone is looking out for everyone, everyone is looking out for everyone's families, children and pets. The place has really banded together."

Donna says her older children are settling in well in Christchurch, but the shakes do affect her youngest son.

"The two-year-old does notice the earthquakes. He is just starting to talk and he can say 'earthquakes'.

"I think he seems to notice them more and is more affected by them. He might cry and get a bit upset if there is a good shake up. However, the four-year-old and the six-year-old, it's quite exciting for them. They've never been in a situation where their lives have been in danger and fortunately all the aftershocks we've felt we've all been together."

Donna says living in Christchurch you have to get used to things not being perfect anymore.

"The perfect house with the perfect walls is just unobtainable. You just have to accept there is going to be cracks, the road is going to have holes in it and that is just how it is going to be."

She says she knows several other families making the move back to the city, and is excited about Christchurch's future.

"The future has got to be good for Christchurch. You can't help but think all that development and jobs and new safe environmentally friendly buildings - it is going to be a pretty fantastic city."

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