Cemetery storm damage lingers

CHARLIE MITCHELL
Last updated 08:52 14/08/2014
Grave damage

GRAVE SIGHT: Damage from a 2013 storm at Karori cemetery, 14 months after the event.

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The clean-up of is yet to be completed after a vicious storm wrought havoc on Wellington more than a year ago.

A storm in June last year has cost the council $5 million to date - more than both of last year's earthquakes combined - and some council controlled areas, including a cemetery, have been left in its wake.

Karori cemetery, the largest gravesite in Wellington, faced the brunt of the storm, resulting in considerable damage to parts of the property.

Fallen trees are littered across the Wilton end of the site, resting on top of graves, some of which have been smashed.

It's been more than a year since the storm, but work to clean up the area is only set to begin this week.

Wellington City Council spokesman Clayton Anderson said the cemetery sustained a lot of damage in the storm, and the Wilton section was the last area to be cleaned up.

He said the council had to prioritise the clean up because of funding and organising contractors.

"It's the way councils work," he said. "People just have to have a bit of patience, really."

The grave site was considered "lower priority" by the council, with other repairs around the city taking precedence, he said.

"The big push early on was to clear trees hanging over roads and blocking well-used tracks.

"We are still fixing and upgrading retaining walls in places like Karaka Bay and Princess Bay, where the big storm swells did a lot of damage.

"We have finished repair work at Island Bay, where a large section of roadway was destroyed by waves."

He said the council was aware of private boatshed owners who were still repairing damage caused by the storm.

A contributing factor to the state of the cemetery site is the age of the graves. Some are nearly 100 years old and may not have anyone to care for them.

Anderson said broken gravestones were the responsibility of families, not the council.

"They're really old graves. In theory it should be the family that looks after the plot," he said.

"We would do our best to make it look presentable - we might prop up a gravestone if it had fallen over - but we can only do so much."

Karori cemetery manager Jeff Parish said because the plots were privately owned, the council was restricted to maintaining the surrounding areas.

"Across the country, we have an obligation and a duty to maintain cemeteries, but the plots are owned by the plot owners," he said.

They beautified all they could around the gravesites, Parish said, but were unable to do anything about the plots themselves.

"We try to keep it as manageable as we can without doing work on the plot, which we don't own.

"Invariably it's an issue we are finding more and more. You can see some of the graves have dates like 1920 on them. Their families are all gone, have moved on, or don't even know they're there."

He said the council was looking to create a wetland theme in the damaged area when work was completed.

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- The Wellingtonian

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