Kaiapoi to make the best of red zone

CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 05:00 04/09/2014
JOE JOHNSON/The Press

STAYERS: Brent and Shirley Cairns have stayed in their Kaiapoi home despite it being red zoned.

Brent and Shirley Cairns
JOSEPH JOHNSON / Fairfax NZ
NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Brent and Shirley Cairns, with their dog Morgan, have stayed in their Kaiapoi home for nearly four years despite it being red zoned.

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The road leading to Brent Cairns' Kaiapoi home is barren.

There are empty sections, steel containers and wire fences but in the wasteland there are also fruit trees.

"In a way Kaiapoi is like these trees," Cairns says. "They are still here and they are still producing fruit."

For nearly four years, he and wife Shirley, and their dog, Morgan, have lived in the red zone. It was their home of eight years and where they worked from. They looked after themselves.

When the Government announced the zoning of Canterbury in 2011, they never considered leaving.

"We love it here, we chose to live here. Now, we have got a blank canvas to work with," Cairns says.

On the morning of September 4, 2010, he was on a callout as a volunteer fire officer when the shaking began.

"It was like scene from a movie. You could see a crack coming towards us, you could see it opening up."

Mud and water caused by liquefaction poured into the streets and homes were broken apart. As the sun came up and the day progressed, hundreds of homes were deemed uninhabitable.

Waimakariri Mayor David Ayers was a Civil Defence controller at the time. At 9am, he flew over the region in a helicopter to assess the damage. He saw bridges buckled and chimneys toppled. The land had slumped.

"I knew we had a major problem," Ayers says.

A welfare centre was set up and the first priority was to make sure people were safe.

Then came the essential services - getting water, electricity and sewerage on as fast as possible.

The Waimakariri District Council came up with a plan to remediate the land. Residents were about to be told roughly when their homes could be rebuilt.

Two weeks later the Government red zoning decision was made.

"It was a bit of a shock," Ayers says.

The first area to be remediated under the council plan was Kairaki Beach. It was the first to be red zoned.

About 1000 homes in Kaiapoi were affected.

"That decision made a huge difference - we got a movement of people out of damaged areas and into other parts of Kaiapoi and Rangiora," Ayers says.

There have been frustrations for people who had made plans only to see them disappear and for those who are still waiting for homes to be built. "But also in the community there is a very positive feel. People are looking to the future to make the best of the red zone areas."

Significant buildings like the historic Blackwell's Department Store have recently been reopened. Plans for a new library and museum are under way. There are ideas for cafes on the waterfront and BMX bike parks.

"There is a community feel of things moving forward," Ayers says.

Waimakariri Labour list MP Clayton Cosgrove says seeing the town on September 4, 2010, was a shock.

It was the small things like getting the groceries and digging the car out of liquefaction that ground people down. He remembers seeing people's faces. "It was total deflation. Nobody could mentally compute the power of the quake and the devastation."

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He has much praise for the council, which worked so well with the community to keep them informed during those days.

"They were a shining light. They decided this is not business as usual. Then they told people the truth."

Cosgrove believes Kaiapoi is a place for the future. "It will be a destination. The businesses haven't gone away. If we can get the planning right, it will be a jewel in the crown of the region."

Cairns has mapped all the fruit trees in the red zone to make sure that they are not removed when the area is totally cleared.

He wants to make it a food forest for the whole community where anyone can go to enjoy the fruits of the earthquake.

"There is no doubt that Kaiapoi will be better off than what it was before the earthquake," he says.

"We have so many opportunities."

- The Press

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