Picking up the pieces

KAT DUGGAN
Last updated 08:58 16/07/2014
 Laressa Shenfield
ANTHONY PHELPS

BUILDING UP: Bricks have piled up on this empty section in Seymour St in Seddon as people clear the debris from their properties.

 Laressa Shenfield
ANTHONY PHELPS
FIXED UP: Seddon couple Bri Pupich and Kurt Flowerday with their repaired rental property on Seymour St in Seddon.
 Laressa Shenfield
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ
DAMAGE ASSESSMENT: Seddon resident Kurt Flowerdayassesses damage to his rental property on Seymour St in Seddon after the quake on July 21 last year.

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It is almost a year since the first big earthquake of 2013 that rocked Marlborough. Reporter Kat Duggan looks at how residents of Seddon and Ward have coped.

A pile of bricks on a bare section, cracks in concrete walls, the odd spot of broken cladding - to people passing through Seddon, these things may seem inconsequential, but to residents of the small Awatere Valley town they serve as visual reminder of a time they'd rather forget.

It was Friday, July 19 when the first one hit, a magnitude-5.7 quake, followed by a cluster of quakes that continued throughout the weekend. Then, on July 21, the first "big one" hit - a 6.5 magnitude quake late on a lazy Sunday afternoon. That one was enough to crack walls, rock items off shelves, and shake the cladding and chimneys off houses in the Seddon, Ward, Flaxbourne and Awatere areas.

A year on, after hundreds of aftershocks and a bigger shake of 6.6 on August 16 that caused even more damage, houses have been repaired or are on the way to being rebuilt.

But the psychological effects of the quakes have taken longer to heal, with some residents still spooked by heavy trucks or an approaching train. Wind gusts spark panic for some, after a severe wind storm in June last year caused further and widespread damage in the area, particularly in Ward.

Seddon man Kurt Flowerday and his partner Bri Pupich were among those whose property was damaged in the first quake, which became known officially as a "Cook Strait event". A good proportion of the bricks came off their rental property in Seymour St.

They began clearing away the rubble to make it safe for their tenants, six Kiribatian vineyard workers, but worse was to come when the "Lake Grassmere" quake struck on August 16.

"In the first one you could walk around and push [the blocks] and they were loose [but] we only lost the two back walls," Flowerday said. "I'm glad we didn't get too much into repairing it . . . [when the second one hit] 90 per cent of the house bricks would have come off their fixings."

Nearly a year on the pair have had the house repaired, with new exterior cladding and the indoor fireplace and mantelpiece repaired by June. The emotional impact has been harder to deal with but the pair say life is beginning to get back to normal.

"For ages I would have to sleep with the TV on or something on in the background because if it was quiet I was paranoid that every little noise was going to be an earthquake," Pupich said.

The first big shake might have been a blessing in some ways, making them more prepared for the second, bigger quake. "Not mentally [prepared] but everything else," Pupich said, thinking back to some practical steps she learnt in the first quake.

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"I was at home on the second one, cooking my roast chicken and the one thing I remembered Kurt saying was to turn [things] off at the wall because the power would come back on, so I went round and turned everything off," she said.

It was the first time she had been at home alone since the July quake.

She then went straight into the township, where everyone in the family knew to go. "I think people have just had to, you know . . . it's happened, you've gotta try get it back to how it was and just pick up the pieces and deal with it," Flowerday said.

"You can't stop the ground moving. What do you do - if it's going to move, it's going to move," he said.

The ground has remained mostly steady in the region so far this year as the cleanup continues and as more, usually minor, damage comes to light.

A far cry from the movie-like set it became following the August shake, Seddon School has a peaceful air about it, without the floodlights, emergency services and families taking refuge from their homes.

Deputy principal Nick Raynor, who was acting principal during the Lake Grassmere quake, said time had revealed a lot of superficial damage to the school. Several rooms needed repairs, which added up to refurbishing that reached beyond $200,000, Raynor said.

It was a frustrating cost for the school but things could have been worse. "As long as we could carry on teaching that was the least of our worries. It was always the impact on the people and the things they were going through. I think we coped, and Seddon as a community coped really well."

Many families were still dealing with rebuilds and refurbishments, but the children were coping well at school a year on, he said, adding that their decision to adopt a "business as usual" approach had been the right thing to do.

"We as a school approached it very positively and I think on reflection that was the right thing to do. School became a safe place for the kids.

"A lot of them I think are still staring at cracks on their bedroom ceilings and their parents are still dealing with EQC, but here it's been calm and positive," he said.

Ward resident Kevin Loe said people were also still discovering cracks and damage.

Ward had been through a particularly tough 12 months, with the wind storm before the quakes, and floods in April this year.

Farmers in the area had found a silver lining in the form of the "out of the box" farming season, Loe said.

"For some, to a large degree [that] helps us cope with the three whammies that have been tossed at us.

"I think the combination of wind, earthquakes and flood has taken a bit of a spring out of the step and there's been a lot of sessions of tidying up and there's still plenty to do, but I think most people are still in a positive frame of mind and looking onwards and not backwards," he said.

The gusts of up to 225kmh on June 20 last year, which hit with driving rain and snow, toppled hundreds of trees and damaged powerlines, sheds, and fences. Resident John Hickman said it had been a "pretty terrible" year for his family, who were dealing with three big insurance claims.

"It's a bit demoralising ... We had the wind storm, the earthquakes and just had bad floods added," he said. But the "bloody good farming season" had given them something positive to focus on.

"I guess family life has pretty much got back to normal. Things are different, but the kids aren't worrying so much," he said. "Bad things come in threes so hopefully we are done and dusted for a generation."

Grassmere farmer Doug Avery was only too happy to welcome in 2014 and say goodbye to the year that claimed his family homestead, the oldest in the valley. "I celebrated bloody hard at New Year's Eve - not to celebrate this year but to say goodbye to the bastard that had just gone by. Thirteen is a number I have never liked," he said.

It was an extremely sad day when the damaged homestead was pulled down, but the family had appreciated help from EQC to rebuild a house, Avery said.

Since the shakes he had been focusing on building his own emotional resilience, and that of the community around him, he said.

"I don't know how to make the earth stop shaking but we live in a beautiful country that's created by shaking and I have got no intention to leave. You can't run from your troubles."

People in the Seddon and Ward areas are planning an anniversary event in conjunction with Marlborough emergency services, to be called Event 365 - Moving On and Community Awareness Day. It is to be held on August 16 from 11am to 3pm at the Seddon Domain.

- The Marlborough Express

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