A childhood interrupted by quakes

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 07:56 16/07/2014
DANIEL TOBIN/Fairfax NZ

Harriet Matthews talks to Anna Pearson as part of the Childhood Interrupted series.

Giorgio Haendle

Camille Perelini

Alex Crampton

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Christchurch's earthquake kids entered "an adult world of worry" before their time, say parents interviewed as part The Press' childhood interrupted project.

The Press interviewed four children, aged between 9 and 12, about the quakes' impacts on their lives.

We did not ask Camille, Alex, Giorgio and Harriet about their experiences and trauma during the September 2010, and February 2011, earthquakes.

Instead, we talked with them about their day-to-day lives after the quakes.

Did they move homes?

Where are they living now?

Did they change schools?

Did they make new friends?

Some spoke of the trauma of February 22 without prompting.

Others said they needed counselling after the disaster.

Tom Matthews' daughter Harriet, 12, was at Discovery Primary when the February 22 earthquake struck. He said afterwards she got stressed about things "kids would not normally have to worry about".

Even during the quake, then aged 8, Harriet protected her little brother while buildings came down around their central city school.

"She was under a table and there was not enough room for him so she sat on the outside," Matthews said.

There was a positive side to the experience, he said, in "having to think beyond yourself, but with that . . . you lose a bit of your innocence, too".

"All of a sudden their perspective had to shift to slightly more adult worries. They hear us talking about the house and rebuilding and earthquakes. They pick up on a lot of that secondary stress."

Camille Perelini goes to St Michael's Church School in central Christchurch. The roll dropped from 180-plus pupils in 2010 to about 70 this year.

She lives in Dallington, one of the city's harder-hit suburbs.

Camille's mother Chrystal Eaton-Perelini said the difference between her 18-year-old son's childhood and 10-year-old Camille's was vast.

"[Camille] was probably exposed to quite a lot more than a lot of children her age were, because of family circumstances.

Camille went to school in Auckland when there was no power and no water in Dallington, while her parents ran a support centre from their front lawn, which later became the Dallington Hub. She also had counselling through the Christchurch Methodist Mission.

"We went for weeks without sleep, because [Camille] would not sleep. She needed to know where everybody was all of the time," Eaton-Perelini said. "I have learnt a huge amount of what to do and what not to do [as a parent], which I never had to think about before."

Giorgio Haendle was 5 when the quake struck. His mother, Maud Haendle, said the effects on him were not only from the quake itself, but also the uncertainty that followed. Now 9, Giorgio was struggling with the changes in his young life.

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"It was very difficult to keep an even keel for Giorgio - to keep life as normal as possible, so that he did not get more stressed," Haendle said.

The stress of the quakes was compounded by a fire that destroyed the family's home a year earlier, she said.

Her partner also suffered post traumatic stress disorder after being in the central city during the February 22 quake. "He gets startled by any changes in his routine. His whole life changed."

Kerrie Crampton, whose 10-year-old son Alex also spoke to The Press, said "no-one comes out of a disaster like that unscathed, but for Alex [the effects] are minimal". The biggest impact on Alex was his desire to know where family members were at all times.

Below the children tell their stories in their own words.

HARRIET MATTHEWS

Age: 12

Birthday: August 25

Lives in: New Brighton

School: Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery

It was really hard at first. The first year was OK, but it was the second year . . . all these kids just collapsed. Something triggered it. It was just not the best year for our school. We were not in a good state as children.

I remember being in the city centre. It has changed an awful lot. I remember the roads being really smooth and pools everywhere. Being up high in the city centre was a big thing - a really big thing. We had a shorter distance to drive and a bike course across the road. It was just a whole lot cleaner.

We are now out in Halswell. We drive about an hour to two hours a day. It depends on the traffic. It can get really bad. There are less swimming pools around and the roads are really bumpy. It is just a whole lot harder to get places and it takes longer. There is no library and we do not go to the city centre and play tag anymore and stuff like that.

Our house has been a whole lot more damp. The plumbing keeps breaking every time there is a quiver.

It is a whole lot colder now, because we live in an old house. I think it is like a-hundred-and-something years old.

We are on Owls Tce. It floods every full moon and every high tide and most days, especially when it is raining. I think we had a problem where it came up our storm drains.

[After the quakes] I just did not feel grounded and had anxiety issues. I had a hard time with confidence and la de da de da, but that is all over now.

I have just sort of learnt to ignore it. I am not sure how to explain it really. You just get used to it and it does not affect you anymore. Every now and then it comes back again and it is really strong and it is just... not nice.

[The Halswell campus] feels more like home now and I know everyone. It is just ... happier.

I have got friends that I am really close with now and nothing can separate us.

I have also loved how we have been out in the country a bit, because in the city we did not really have big grassy patches.

In town we had a box hanging off the side of a wall that we all played in, which was really tiny.

GIORGIO HAENDLE

Age: 9

Birthday: March 12

Lives in: South Brighton

School: St Michael's Church School

"Our house burnt down before the earthquakes and we had to move a lot. I did not really like that.

After the earthquake our school had a big crack through the back of the field and it was leaking and all the changing rooms got smashed.

It shut for six weeks.

They had to get it repaired and get the cracks done and they had to fix the glass and I think it cost a lot of money.

I had to go to Wellington. I went to a school there and I made lots of friends. I was a bit nervous. There were a lot of kids there.

It was a bit unusual, because we got 'Wheel Day', where we got to bring our bikes. That was a bit different.

The teachers were way nicer and if we had good behaviour we got 30 marbles and we got to watch a movie.

We lived with our friend.

In South New Brighton lots of our friends had to move, because they got red zoned. We got lucky, because it did not really strike here.

My friend George had to move up to Ohoka. Ryan, my friend, went to Australia. I have not seen them for three years.

Lots of my friends moved. It was quite hard.

My friend just next door - Sasha - had to move to Kaikoura. He just came back.

Our house still is not really fixed.

We had scaffolding and I got to climb on it and do some sand-papering.

St Michael's was really frustrating on my first day, because I had to get this tie on, tuck my T-shirt in, this big blazer and I had these big sacky socks.

My shoes were polished and I had this hat and when I rushed into assembly I sat down and lots of people were whispering at me. Then I finally realised I still had my blazer and hat on.

At South Brighton, we just got to wear a simple uniform and mufti shoes.

I could just walk and scoot to school. Now we have to drive.

There are some good things. I made new friends - Aiden, Billy, Josh and some other people. And we got a new playground

CAMILLE PERELINI

Age: 10

Birthday: September 26

Lives in: Dallington

School: St Michael's Church School

Before the earthquake I had a lot more children in my class. There were more people around town and we had more space in the school. Now some of it is fenced off.

Across the road from us there are a lot of buildings being pulled down and the new justice precinct is going up. We have been doing a time-lapse and seeing how it has changed.

On the day of the earthquake a bit of the roof fell into our library. Me and one other boy, who is a bit younger than me, were the only two not crying. It was pretty scary. They made sure that we were all facing the school not the road, because people were carrying bodies.

I went to school in Auckland for two weeks and stayed with some cousins, just while Mum and Dad sorted everything out.

The kids at Owairoa Primary School in Howick were like, 'Oh you are from Christchurch? How is your family? Was it scary?' They were all really nice.

My best friends are still at St Michael's, but quite a few children left because they moved houses or left Christchurch.

Before the September earthquake, in 2010, we had 180 plus pupils... this year we have 70.

After the earthquake, I had this thing where I would not go anywhere by myself. I had to know where everyone was and I had to know where every item was. I had to have about four torches beside my bed and I would not sleep in my own room.

Mum would be like, 'Can you just go out and check the mail?' And I would be like, 'No! Dad, you come with me. I am not going out there by myself'.

I had a counsellor and she had solutions for everything. I had fairy chains down my wardrobe and we removed them, because they would shake at the slightest movement.. We removed anything from my room that would make a noise while I was asleep.

Our road got fixed a couple of months ago, but the bridge is closed so there is barely any traffic outside. At night it is rather creepy, because there is no-one around. We have red zone land all around us. I can only remember my room as it is now - with cracks in the ceiling, walls and the windowsills. The floor creaks and if I get up at night I wake everyone up.

My friends' house got damaged really badly and had to be demolished in the red zone. Her birthday party was two weeks before they had to move out. We all got a pack of sharpie vivids and got to draw all over her bedroom walls, because it was going to be pulled down. It was a fun thing out of a sad thing

ALEX CRAMPTON

Age: 10

Birthday: September 9

Lives in: Burwood

School: Queenspark School

On the actual earthquake there was a lot of people upset and I was the last one to get picked up and teachers were giving me biscuits from the biscuit container.

After the earthquake I can remember about four boys coming to the school. They were, like, tough boys. One kid came to the school who was taller than me.

Most aftershocks were unexpected and I would sometimes get a fright. Some of my friends had laptops in their hands and dropped the laptops and ran.

We have had quite a few people come [to Queenspark School] this year and last year. They usually talk about what they did in their old school. Most of them are nice and sometimes they come up with new ideas.

Once the earthquakes happened [our dog] got really scared and started to break things.

She started digging under the fence down the back and Dad put metal bars there. She kept getting them out. Then he put bricks there. Then I think he put bricks and metal bars.

She broke through the glass by the cat flap and got in. Then she broke a hole though the door to get in. After that we got a dog door, which our cat can also use.

[Our old house] was very nice. I lived near school. We had two neighbours that were my age and across the road we had two friends that we have known for a long time.

It was flooded in the earthquake. Lots of cups fell, we had to remove the carpet and it was red zoned.

We had liquefaction around the place that had to get removed and then my uncle started taking bricks off the house. We eventually had to move.

I like the house we are in now, because . . . nothing is really damaged.

I think I coped quite well. I was scared at some stages, but I did not make it look like I was scared.

When people are crying, me and my friends try and cheer them up.

- The Press

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