Flooding a further blow to shaken city

Last updated 06:28 09/03/2014
05-CHP-Flooding7
Photo: Joseph Johnson/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Krystal Merrick and Dan Evans from the NZRT-12 Emergency Response/Rescue Team travel up the Heathcote River flooding waters along Riverlaw Terrace in their new rescue boat, donated from the lotteries ministry travel with a Red Cross member from RC23 team.
Exeter St floods
Julia Sugarman Zoom
MAD RUSH: Residents shovel swiftly to save this Exeter St, Lyttelton, home from water damage.

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Life is once again in pieces for storm-battered Christchurch residents whose homes have been hit by a succession of natural disasters. Anna Pearson reports.

Mental health experts say last week's Christchurch floods "chucks everything back up in the air again" for those who are still picking up the pieces after the city's 2011 earthquake.

St Albans resident Alison Naylor woke up on Wednesday to her cat, Miss Mayfair, shaking water off on her bed and "five inches of water everywhere".

The 65-year-old is staying at the Diana Isaac Retirement Village, where she works, until she can return home.

And she is sure of one thing: "It is going to happen again."

Naylor says the land her Francis Ave house sits on dropped about 40 centimetres after the earthquakes.

On Friday, she was facing a big clean-up job. Miss Mayfair was at the cattery. Her carpet squelched underfoot and four 50-litre plastic bins were at the ready.

"Everything has got to be emptied out, so they can lift the carpet out. I have had a gutsful," she says.

"It has crossed my mind several times to put it all in a suitcase and move on, but where do I go? If there was a good way out - a good financial way out, I wouldn't stay here. The land has had it."

In Slater St, Richmond, Rachel Vonlandkamner and her three daughters are nervous every time it rains. Vonlandkamner's home of nine years flooded in June, and again on Wednesday. "At 1am one of my daughters woke up and said, 'Mum, it's in the house'. We just got everything beautiful again," she says.

Her new carpet, replaced after the June flood, will have to be ripped up."I think after this one, we just think, 'Oh my God, we're stuck here'. We're just so anxious when it rains. It's absurd."

The Flockton basin, in the St Albans/Mairehau area, was heavily flooded, with the water level in parts of the suburbs reaching waist height.

Residents were angry that nothing had been done as a result of similar flooding in the same area last year. Some want a halt on all earthquake repairs until they know about the future viability of their land. The Christchurch City Council says permanent flood protection for homes in the Flockton basin is two years away - at best.

At Diane Shannon's Carrick St property, the roses in her front yard were dying a watery death.

Her car was drying out in the driveway, after being inundated with water - its doors open like a winged ladybug.

Shannon had taken to sleeping on a mattress on her living room floor - the driest part of the house.

Last year, her insurance company increased her flood damage excess from $200 to $10,000.

She found out only when she tried to lodge an $800 claim for damage from the June flood.

Shannon's neighbours, who are with the same company, have not been hit with an increase - yet.

"I'm going to go back to them and say, 'Can you explain this to me?' It seems really unfair and quite arbitrary. If we have another flood in a month, which could happen, I'm on my own," she says.

Negotiating with Earthquake Commission (EQC) and contractors last year was difficult enough. She moved out while her house was being repaired. And now this.

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"I think we all know there is no quick fix, but it does have to be a priority. I don't think sandbags are going to cut it really," she says.

Dr Sarb Johal, a disaster mental health Associate Professor at Massey University, says "meaningful" dialogue between residents and agencies is crucial in times of recovery.

Wednesday's flood "chucks everything back up in the air again" for residents who are still dealing with earthquake after- effects, he says.

"It's not just a flooding event. It's the impact of, 'What does it mean?' It all adds to the uncertainty. What we know is that people are really struggling with that loss of agency [control over their lives]. They have been in limbo for quite some time." Psychiatrist Dr Caroline Bell, who is co-ordinating the Canterbury District Health Board's psycho- social response to the quakes, said three years on from the disaster "some people are far from over it".

For those who have now suffered flooding damage as well, "it must be so hard to keep on pulling yourself up by your bootstraps".

"There are people who are really struggling and feeling stuck and forgotten by other parts of the city, forgotten by the agencies and forgotten by the country." Council engineers are looking at two options for permanently protecting 400 low-lying homes in the Flockton basin from further flooding but Mayor Lianne Dalziel says even if the work can be fast- tracked it is likely to take two years to complete.

- Sunday Star Times

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