Waiau: The forgotten quake-hit town

2:08 pm on 3 March 2017

Waiau's fire brigade had to borrow a water pump to fight a major blaze, in the latest difficulty for a town that feels it's been forgotten since the November quake.

A large scrub fire near Hanmer Springs has closed the main route between Picton and Christchurch.

The scrub fire covered 60ha and closed the main route from Christchurch to Picton for a time. Photo: Facebook / Canterbury Highway Information

The volunteer firefighters helped battle the big scrub fire near Hanmer Springs this week that burned through some 60ha and forced the closure of the new main South Island route.

The brigade's $15,000 pump was stolen three months ago from Dog Creek, where it was used for pumping water to take by tanker to farms for livestock, after the 7.8 earthquake on 14 November shattered water pipes.

"The other pump, all the brigade members were trained in it and quite happy at using it," said brigade chief Hugh Wells. "So to have a different pump, it can be quite awkward, especially on a fire ground."

He said the brigade would love to have benefactors like Tait Communications, which donated radios to a Marlborough fire brigade hit by thieves at Kēkerengū, or sponsors like those helping Kaikōura.

"We probably wouldn't like to say it, but yes, we are kind of the back street that's been left out.

"I know a lot of people around here are getting very frustrated at hearing about the Kaikōura earthquake, when we were actually the epicentre."

There have been helping hands, though.

Auckland tech entrepreneur Verdon Kelliher has a soft spot for the town he lived in 30 years ago and where all his closest friends still live.

It was "heartbreaking" when he went back, he said.

"The poor buggers lost everything - the bowls club, the scout den, the church, the museum, the golf club, the tennis courts, the netball courts - everything was wrecked."

And he was shocked when he learned how the school swimming pool was "all smashed up and munted".

The Waiau School pool after the 14 November 2016 earthquake.

The Waiau School pool after the 14 November 2016 earthquake. Photo: Givealittle.co.nz

"Someone showed me a photograph ... so I took it upon myself that that could be something I could do to help out."

Mr Kelliher had Trade Me auctions running that had raised $17,000 and a Givealittle page has topped $92,000.

Firms like Lott Contractors and Mike Greer homes stumped up thousands in donated services.

The town set up a small temporary pool over summer, but the school swimming sports in mid-February had to be held at the Rotheram School pool, 11km away.

Emma Duncan, who has lived in Waiau all her life, heads the pool rebuilding committee. She has said goodbye to friends who moved when their homesteads were wrecked.

"It has been very quiet," she said. "It's very frustrating for a lot of people in Waiau to see Kaikōura getting so much exposure when the damage, in comparison, is a lot more here in Waiau.

"It's not just the houses, it's actually taken out a lot of community organisations."

More than 30 houses and buildings are red-stickered in the township of 300, the school roll has fallen by a third to under 40 and there is no longer a playcentre. Nor is there 2degrees cellphone coverage, after the company pulled out several months ago.

Rebuilding the pool is becoming something of a catalyst for renewal. The committee is $450,000 short of what they need, but it is not short of impetus.

"I think the pool is a huge, positive boost for the whole community," Ms Duncan said.

"It's setting a benchmark, I would like to think, because we are doing quite well for a small community. That Givealittle page has been quite successful ... we had a nationwide mufti day ... and we've got further fundraising ideas."

Earthquake damage at the Waiau Hotel.

Earthquake damage at the Waiau Hotel. Photo: AFP