The Big Read: Waiau residents rebuilding their lives brick by brick after 7.8 quake

Just a few days ago, Waiau was cut off from civilisation.

But four days on from the monster 7.8 magnitude earthquake, locals are getting on with life.

A critical stage was the re-opening of the Waiau River Bridge which had dropped about 40cm at each end after the quake. It's been re-opened and proving a lifeline.

Church will be held elsewhere this week as the local stone-laden All Saint's Church has been left buckled, its bell tower now leaning an angle.

The Waiau township was hit hard by Monday's earthquake. Photo / Mike Scott
The Waiau township was hit hard by Monday's earthquake. Photo / Mike Scott

And the historic Cob Cottage, which is now the town's museum, has also been red-stickered.

Although life for some residents isn't great - at least 10 homes have been red-stickered and some of the occupants are now living in tents.

You don't have to go far to see a 4WD bustling with supplies, a high-vis vest or an emergency response vehicle.

There's only a few hundred that live in the area and the main street consists of about half a dozen businesses.

The Amuri Cooperating Parish All Saints Church has been heavily damaged. Photo / Mike Scott
The Amuri Cooperating Parish All Saints Church has been heavily damaged. Photo / Mike Scott
The township of Waiau is getting back to shape - Bernie Shapiro was part of a crew dropping off supplies. Photo / Mike Scott
The township of Waiau is getting back to shape - Bernie Shapiro was part of a crew dropping off supplies. Photo / Mike Scott

Down at Ross Forbes Motors, it's clean-up time. When the Herald visited this morning Forbes he and young staffer Sam Ferguson were tidying the workshop.

They've already spent the past day or two picking up tyres, tools and other equipment that was left splayed everywhere.

As for how the locals are feeling, four days on, he reckons they're still a bit shell-shocked.

Ross Forbes cleans up in his workshop. Photo / Mike Scott
Ross Forbes cleans up in his workshop. Photo / Mike Scott
Contractors are out and about in Waiau fixing damaged houses. Photo / Mike Scott
Contractors are out and about in Waiau fixing damaged houses. Photo / Mike Scott

However, they had been buoyed by the support from the surrounding towns - Rotherham, Culverdon - that hadn't been as affected.

"The support that we're getting from the other areas, because they want to open up this as a main route and because we were the worst, all those guys have been over supporting us."

He was thankful of how quickly contractors had worked to get the power and water services operating again, although there were still pockets of the town that were too badly affected.

"The guys to get the power, water and everything back on is great. Someone said there's 300 people working on the Inland Rd today, just trying to open it. But that road is going to be average for a long time."

He will spend the rest of the week tidying his workshop and helping with emergency repairs before opening properly next week some time.

The Amuri Cooperating Parish All Saints Church on a heavy lean. Photo / Mike Scott
The Amuri Cooperating Parish All Saints Church on a heavy lean. Photo / Mike Scott

Next door at the local bakery, staff are also back in business, the chips are cooking, the sandwiches are ready to eat, the muffins fresh.

Although they don't want to be named - they say there are others worse off - they're happy to be able to feed people again.

Customers are mostly visiting contractors and emergency service personnel which at the moment make up a chunk of the population.

Some Waiau residents have been forced to camp in their backyards. Photo / Mike Scott
Some Waiau residents have been forced to camp in their backyards. Photo / Mike Scott
The reopening of the main bridge from the south is proving a lifeline. Photo / Mike Scott
The reopening of the main bridge from the south is proving a lifeline. Photo / Mike Scott

Bernie Shapiro didn't bring heavy excavation equipment, the Little River resident brought supplies that he knows the locals will need.

After all, that community has also had its fair share of quake shakes.

"A lot of us are earthquake refugees and we know what they're going through, and the kids know what they're going through. We couldn't just sit back and do nothing."

The vintage military enthusiast even dressed up in his garb for the trip, despite the forecasted thunderstorms.

Contractors are out and about in Waiau fixing power connections. Photo / Mike Scott
Contractors are out and about in Waiau fixing power connections. Photo / Mike Scott

At the Waiau Supermarket, owner Michael Patel has opened his doors for the first time today.

His staff are still stocking the shelves but it's a mighty transformation from what he was confronted with on Monday.

He's optimistic about the future as SH70 - the main road through Waiau - is now likely to become the main thoroughfare for people wanting to travel north.

He's now trying to get his deliveries twice a week as opposed to once, to cater for the influx.

Down the road in Culverdon it's also back to normal but over in Cheviot - on State Highway 1 - what was once a busy hotspot for tourists, residents and commuters, is now eerily quiet.

One business owner wasn't sure to open - others still haven't - and admits that it's been quiet.

Paul Newbury-Johnson and Frances O'Connell are optimistic about their temporary new abode. Photo / Mike Scott
Paul Newbury-Johnson and Frances O'Connell are optimistic about their temporary new abode. Photo / Mike Scott

A cup of tea saved Frances O'Connell's life

It was the cup of tea that saved Frances O'Connell's life.

Although, partner Paul Newberry-Johnson could claim to be the lifesaver as the tea was his suggestion.

The Waiau couple returned from a weekend away late Sunday night. Tired, O'Connell was going to bed, but Newberry-Johnson talked her into staying up and watching the rest of a movie with a cup of tea.

After making it, she sat next to him - and not on the couch where she had previously been.

Next minute there was a loud bang.

"Then we thought 'oh know'," O'Connell said.

We thought we were going to die. A lot of other people I have spoken to thought that was it too.
Frances O'Connell

The shaking - sideways and up and down - was so violent.

Newberry-Johnson leaned over to cover her as they heard things crash around them.

"We thought we were going to die. A lot of other people I have spoken to thought that was it too."

The damage to the couple's house was significant. Photo / Mike Scott
The damage to the couple's house was significant. Photo / Mike Scott

After what seemed like forever, the shaking stopped and after kicking down the door they got outside.

They spent the rest of the morning in their car. Then they saw the damage.

The concrete blocks around their bedroom had been thrown across their driveway, while the rest of the wall had severe cracking.

Inside, the oven is resting on top of the dishwasher which was ejected from the wall and the contents of their cupboards are across the floor. There's countless cracks in the walls and floors.

A wall unit lay covering the couch O'Connell had earlier been sitting on. She would have been squashed had she still been sitting there, she reckoned.

Not surprisingly, the house has been red-stickered.

Paul Newberry-Johnson and Frances O'Connell in their new dwelling. Photo / Mike Scott
Paul Newberry-Johnson and Frances O'Connell in their new dwelling. Photo / Mike Scott

After spending two nights at a friend's in nearby Culverdon, a local friend offered them unlimited use of their customised motor home.

Not only is it kitted out with a bed, sink and oven, there's also a shower, toilet, power points, fridge, storage and a pot belly heater made out of an old gas bottle.

They've gone from living on a quarter-acre section to about 8sq m.

But they couldn't be happier as they realise how lucky they are just to have each other.

Having insurance, and somewhere dry to sleep, they will now just sit tight and wait for insurance and EQC assessors to stop by over the next week or two.

After that they'll make the most of their mobility and do a bit of travel over summer.

Frances O'Connell in the small motor home. Photo / Mike Scott
Frances O'Connell in the small motor home. Photo / Mike Scott

However, they don't want to leave Waiau.

"We haven't lived here that long, about seven or eight years, but we just love it. And I know that sounds nuts, but it's just great living here," O'Connell said.

For the moment, O'Connell's pleased that her nausea has finally gone, but Newberry-Johnson still hasn't regained his appetite.

"But I haven't had any bad dreams. Not yet anyway ... we're just counting our blessings, there's so many more people worse off than us."

Christchurch earthquake refugee Petrea Allpress-Green, with her dog peanut, is too sacred to sleep in her quake-damaged Waiau house, prefering to sleep in a tent. Photo / Mike Scott
Christchurch earthquake refugee Petrea Allpress-Green, with her dog peanut, is too sacred to sleep in her quake-damaged Waiau house, prefering to sleep in a tent. Photo / Mike Scott

First Christchurch, now this

Their house has shifted at least 5cm off its foundations, and there's cracks in the walls in every room.

Walking throughout the Waiau home of Petrea and Alan Allpress-Green leaves you feeling a bit queezy, almost seasick, as the floor subtly undulates randomly.

But it's been given a white sticker by Civil Defence meaning it's been deemed safe to live in.

It's brought no comfort to the couple though, especially Petrea, as she's still recovering from the Christchurch earthquakes.

She refuses to sleep inside and has dragged husband Alan out into the tent on the lawn.

They were living in Kaiapoi up until four years ago when, fed up with the shakes, they shifted to Waiau.

They've just spent tens of thousands on renovations for their cozy Clarence St house, including $20,000 on the roof, a new fireplace, hot water cylinder and conservatory.

Petrea remains in disbelief and going through an emotional roller coaster as the aftershocks continue, several of which occur when she's speaking to the Herald.

"This is actually worse than the ones we had in Kaiapoi," she says jumping when the house begins to shake.

While they're happy to sit inside and watch television, the sliding doors remain open so they can make a quick exit if the big one strikes again.

As for the future, Alan's fairly relaxed about it all.

They'll stay in the tent tonight, before possibly heading to Christchurch tomorrow or Saturday to stay with family.

As for what it means, they've got insurance but they know EQC moves slowly.

"Christchurch is still not sorted so I don't know."

- NZ Herald

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