Earthquake cloud starting to lift

By Laurel Stowell

When Wanganui demolition contractor Aaron Jurgens arrived in Christchurch three days after the disastrous February 22 earthquake in 2011, he was amazed by the emergency - now he's amazed by the recovery.

"That's the thing that's cool to be a part of. Everyone is getting back on their feet and getting on with it.

"The great cloud that was over everybody seems to have lifted - and, of course, the warm summer helps."

Mr Jurgens is one of the managers of Wanganui-based Jurgens Contractors. His team of 12 to 15 has been working in Christchurch for most of the past two years.

They started by helping demolish the Pyne Gould Guinness Building, where 18 people were missing inside. It was a time of high drama, with the CBD in chaos.

By 2012 the company was demolishing five or six near-new houses in the badly hit eastern suburbs every week, and sending containers of reusable materials back to Wanganui. That work was now erratic, Mr Jurgens said, with delays caused by insurance companies.

At the moment his team is demolishing a five-storey apartment building near the CBD.

They've been told there are 237 large buildings still to come down. Of those, 37 are more than five storeys high - and then there are thousands more houses.

Some of the houses are on the unstable Port Hills, where work has to be done remotely. Jurgens Contractors has bought a remote-controlled Bobcat to use.

Roads are being dug up everywhere and drainage infrastructure replaced. Ground is being cleared in new subdivisions, and some have 10 houses going up in a week.

Despite all the new building, rents are high and there is a shortage of accommodation.

About half the buildings in the CBD are gone, and the cordon around the no-go Red Zone has shrunk. Demolition is still taking place, but there are also investors scoping out available land for development.

The only shopping in the central city is of a specialised kind, in a mall housed in shipping containers.

"I'm enjoying it down here. There's a good vibe about this place. There's always something going on," Mr Jurgens said.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) has said it will be a big year in the city, and he can believe it.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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