'Priority case' widow still waiting

22:57, Apr 16 2013
Julie Caldwell
SOLO BATTLE: Two years on from her husband's death, earthquake widow Julie Caldwell, pictured with dog Chance, is struggling to cope in a house that is still broken.

Earthquake widow Julie Caldwell is about to face her third winter in a cold and cracked TC3 home, despite being deemed a "priority case" by recovery authorities more than two years ago.

The usually timid mother-of-two is fed up with the "empty promises and Band-Aid solutions" from officials and has come out swinging against the system.

"At the beginning of all this I would never speak up for myself but now, since Ian [her husband of 27 years] has died, I've got to.

Ian Caldwell
GONE: Ian Caldwell died in Christchurch's February 2011 earthquake.

"They said I was a priority case but as far as I am concerned, if I am a priority then heaven help those people below me."

Since the earthquake, Caldwell has been left to grieve in her broken North Beach family home.

Along with her daughters, she has faced raw sewage coming up through the shower, windows that cannot be closed and a house that shakes whenever a car goes past.

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She has had temporary "Band-Aid" repairs done "so many blimmin times I can't remember" but two years on, she says she is still waiting on a verdict on her house.

Her insurer, State Insurance, has said an on-site meeting will discuss the repair of Caldwell's home at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the ranchslider has been fixed about six times, there are wide cracks in the bedrooms, the toilet has come away from the wall and because the house loses so much heat, the widow faces $400 power bills through winter.

Caldwell works three days a week in retail and receives the widow's benefit, but struggles to keep up with the bills and accept authorities' "empty promises".

"I think Ian would be ... proud of the way we have carried on, but I wish he was here because then he could deal with them [the authorities]."

Ian Caldwell was buried in a landslide while he was trying to secure rocks above the Sumner Redcliffs RSA on February 22, 2011.

"It has just been too long and we can't cope with many more winters like this. I need some light at the end of a very long tunnel."

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) deemed Caldwell (along with other immediate family members of quake victims) a "priority case" shortly after the quakes, an EQC spokesman said.

EQC believed the house was below cap, yet State Insurance argued that it was above cap.

After a review, EQC finally made a cap payment in November.

State Insurance spokeswoman Renee Walker confirmed Caldwell was a "priority customer" and that the house would be a repair.

"We completely sympathise with her situation and know what she has been through," she said.

CALDWELL'S LETTER TO THE EDITOR

It is just over two years since I lost my husband tragically in the February 22 earthquake.

The problems of those years have been and still are causing a very stressful situation, with no solution to my ongoing woes.

I have had empty promises from all relevant parties with regard to the state of my house.

It's so bad that a big slab of concrete has been put in front and braced to anchor it and stop it from shifting any further.

I've had structural engineers, EQC assessors and insurance assessors so many times I've lost count. Each time a different opinion is given as to if it's a rebuild or a repair. No-one knows.

I have also had several tradesmen repairing things so many times. The ranchslider still doesn't close properly, just like the windows, and raw sewage has come up into our shower. The council did come to the party on that one, but still there is a lingering smell.

I'm a one-man band on a very low, fixed income and having to face every day without my husband of 27 years, trying to keep things ticking along and looking after my two daughters.

Any time soon, I feel I will have exhausted all my patience and faith in things being righted in the near future. My home is a constant worry with only Band-Aid solutions offered. I need some light at the end of a very long tunnel.

The Press