Earthquake-hit Kaikōura homeowners stuck in waiting game, hope for red-zoning

8:02 pm on 21 January 2017
Tony Guthrie at his earthquake-damaged home beside Lyell Creek.

Tony Guthrie at his earthquake-damaged home beside Lyell Creek. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

Tony Guthrie looks at the home he left the night of the earthquake.

It is shunted half a metre from its original spot. Cracks with seemingly no bottom line the yard.

The garden he spent two years getting into shape is ruined, with the earth, his shed and fence slipping towards the creek that runs along the property's western border. The paths are in pieces.

A single piece of sun-withered red tape, most of it on the ground, warns people not to enter.

Inside, the floors slope down to the east and west, as if the home is slowly tearing apart in the middle.

Only the sweeping view of the mountains is unchanged.

Tony Guthrie at his earthquake-damaged home beside Lyell Creek.

Tony Guthrie at his earthquake-damaged home beside Lyell Creek. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

"I don't know why they haven't boarded it off," Mr Guthrie says as he re-strings the tape over the fence.

His is among the 250-odd earthquake-damaged residential Kaikōura properties council building inspectors have red or yellow-stickered, meaning entry is restricted or banned, in the two months since it hit.

Others quit their homes voluntarily, their belongings still strewn over the floor.

Mr Guthrie, the golf course green keeper, has lived in Kaikōura his entire life. He calls it paradise, home.

The 57-year-old spent the 24 hours after the 14 November earthquake in Christchurch Hospital - a falling dresser knocked him unconscious as he fled his bedroom. He got himself out when he came to and was airlifted from the town.

He wants to stay in Kaikōura, but does not want to go back to Gillings Lane.

"It's stuffed. Why go back?"

Tony Guthrie Kaikoura earthquake

Tony Guthrie hopes his home by Lyell Creek will be red-zoned. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

Like others, he is waiting for insurers, for geotechnical engineers, for the Earthquake Commission (EQC), to decide what to do.

He hopes the government will "bite the bullet" and red-zone his property so he can buy a home elsewhere.

"A lot of people are depending on that. It's the difference between whether I move on or not."

For now, he rents a cottage in town. It is nice, he says, but the time he can stay is limited.

"It's sort of dragging on. I need to know where I'm heading. In Christchurch it was six years. I don't have six years."

"You just hope it will get tidied up quickly so we can move on."

Mick Ford Kaikoura earthquake Gillings Lane

Mick Ford returns home twice a day to feed the animals. His dogs guard the property. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

Across Lyell Creek, Mick Ford is in the shed getting food for his pigs and guard dogs.

It's a twice-daily routine, while he and his wife, Lindy, rent elsewhere.

"I'd say it will be condemned," he says, nodding towards the cracked grey home across the drive.

The couple did it up 10 years ago.

Insurance assessors were in days ago and seem to think it is a write-off, he says.

"It's a waiting game. Hopefully they'll let me rebuild in the paddock."

Mick and Lindy Ford Kaikoura house Gillings Lane 
Lindy 022 037 8890
Mick 021 038 89116

Earthquake damage to Mick and Lindy Ford's home by Lyell Creek, Kaikoura. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

"It's funny. Some places are perfect, our neighbours' are munted. There's no rhyme or reason to it."

He is circumspect. "Life's not all easy," he says.

Julie and Yardy Chapman keep an eye on the vacated homes. Theirs was barely touched. It has been quiet since the rubberneckers stopped showing up. The message Mr Chapman spray-painted on the bridge - "No entry, residents only" - helped.

Engaged for years, they decided after the earthquake to tie the knot. No dress, no cake. Just a simple signing at the Kaikōura registry office.

"I don't know if anyone else thought they were going to die that night, but I did," Mrs Chapman says.

Julie and Yardy Chapman phone 027 390 0977

Julie and Yardy Chapman tied the knot after the earthquake and got matching earthquake tattoos. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

Barney and Deb Muir's Hawthorne Rd property backs onto Lyell Creek. The earthquake ripped an almost two-metre-deep crack through their lawn. Mr Muir doubted they would move back in.

"In one word, stuffed," he says of the house.

"I can't see anything else for it apart from red-zoning up that creek."

Whether that would make things easier depended on insurance. A spokeswoman for EQC Minister Gerry Brownlee says staff are assessing the land, but no decisions have been made.

"As with all government departments and insurances, nothing goes quick," Mr Muir says.

Gary and Gay Melville Kaikoura earthquake. Phone 0274 599 575

Gary and Gay Melville can go into their home, but will not sleep there. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

Gary Melville is preparing for the long haul.

He and his wife, Gay, shifted into the carport after quitting their yellow-stickered home on Mt Fyffe Rd.

The skipper is trying to make it comfortable. He laid concrete for a dining room floor. A sawdust toilet is in the garden. Their bed is in the shed. A califont outdoor shower looks over the farm. It will be cold in the winter frosts.

EQC has inspected the house, but there is no word back yet.

"The floor is like this", Mr Melville says, making a wave motion with his hands.

Gary and Gay Melville Kaikoura earthquake. Phone 0274 599 575

Kaikoura homeowner Gary Melville is turning the carport into a temporary home for he and his wife. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

The couple want a rebuild. They hope to avoid an insurance "shit fight".

"We're just drifting around in limbo. It wouldn't surprise me if we're here in a couple of years' time. Some people in Christchurch had that.

"It's hard to believe it's been [two months]. It's sort of weird. Things have gone downhill with the health regimes. There's this feeling of real exhaustion. You just wear out real quick."

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