Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

All shook up, for now

Doug Avery in his damaged bedroom, at Grassmere, near Seddon. Photo / Tim Cuff
Doug Avery in his damaged bedroom, at Grassmere, near Seddon. Photo / Tim Cuff

Wracked with sobs, Doug Avery describes the last 20 terrifying, shaky hours living a few kilometres from the epicentre of Friday's big quake.

Cracks snake around the walls of his bedroom, bricks and dressers lie at his feet and a television is smashed on the floor after a mantelpiece fell under the weight of a collapsing chimney. In the kitchen, Avery's wife Wendy is picking up broken crockery, and saying goodbye to heirlooms gifted to her by her mother.

The water cylinder has ruptured, windows are broken and there is no power or water supply. Structural damage to the 108-year-old Lake Grassmere farmhouse is visible, but it's uncertain how serious it is.

Avery weeps as he describes the damage to the property and the half dozen homes on it. The area has been farmed by the Avery family since 1919.

"We do know how to get up, but we're pretty down today. I've lived in this old place for years. It's always taken everything it's had thrown at it, but it hasn't taken it this time."

Successive droughts in the 1990s had seriously threatened the farm's future. They adapted so successfully they won South Island Farmer of the Year in 2010 and their farming methods have been feted in New Zealand and overseas. But it's been a hard winter. As well as the swarm of frightening earthquakes culminating in Friday's magnitude-6.6 thumper, 225km/h winds wiped out 300 trees and damaged farm infrastructure a month ago.

Avery and a logging contractor were clearing the trees when Friday's quake struck. "I was in such a jubilant mood ... so pleased that at long last I could see the end of the big clean-up of these trees. When it hit, it was like you had blurred vision."

Rushing to the farmhouse, he found half a dozen family members and staff, including one with a newborn baby, huddled outside. Fearing a tsunami, they had spent an hour on a nearby hill.

"The kids were crying, we were trying to be funny about it, but it was hard. There were these terrible roaring noises as the aftershocks came flying up the road and we could hear the house wrecking ... we've been dealt a massive blow."

He checked stock, which are in the middle of lambing and calving, yesterday and they were in good condition. But no power meant electric fences and water pumps were not working.

In the surrounding area roads are cracked, bridges damaged and the landscape altered by subsidence.

An exhausted Avery see-saws between despair and a desire to battle on. "We've got lots of family and friends in Christchurch so we fully understand what they've gone through ... I'm bloody determined I'm not going to be crying about this in two years time."

- Herald on Sunday

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