Patrolling the red zone

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 06/08/2012
Cera guard Rory Garland
Kirk Hargreaves

ON PATROL: Rory Garland, security guard for Cera, on night patrol in the residential red zone.

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Cera has appointed private security guards to help keep red-zoned Christchurch suburbs safe. Charlie Gates spends a night patrolling the city's ''black zones''.

''You see some sights.''

Rory Garland patrols Christchurch's shattered streets alone. On some streets, his torch is the only light, his ute the only sign of life.

He patrols the rutted and mangled streets of the residential red zone, running his torch beam across the shattered homes, from 6pm to 6am daily.

Occasionally, he stops to inspect a Canterbury Earthquake Revovery Authority-owned property on foot, walking around the empty property, looking for squatters and checking that doors and windows are locked.

On a freezing Monday night last month, it was slow work, but there were occasional surprises.

One empty house in Bexley appeared normal from the street, but closer inspection revealed only the front windows had been left by burglars.

The window frames at the back and on the sides of the house had been stripped out. Inside, the kitchen and bathroom units had also been stripped out.

It was a cold and empty house in a cold and empty suburb.

At an empty house in New Brighton, Garland found the front door hanging off its hinges. Inside, the walls of the warped and empty home had been tagged.

In Brooklands, one empty home had been left in a sorry state. Children had been allowed to draw and write all over the inside walls, and there were holes punched in the walls.

The rooms and front lawn were strewn with broken toys, appliances and shattered furniture, and the fence had been pulled down.

The family had left behind more than most people own. The mess felt like an angry and powerless gesture.

''It is amazing how much stuff people leave behind,'' said Garland with typical understatement.

These were just three of the many homes Garland visits over a single night. His ute is taken down every red-zoned street over the course of his 12-hour shift.

''I just drive down every street and look for lights and that,'' he said.

''When you drive around the whole red zone, you realise how big it is.''

If he sees lights on in a home that has been bought by Cera, it could mean squatters have moved in. He makes a note of the address and the daytime patrol pays a visit.

''I know where all the empty houses are now. If I see a light on in an empty house I add it to my list,'' he said.

''There are very few lights on. You are sometimes driving down streets where just one person lives. That is why they are happy we are around now.''

Do the empty streets and hollow-eyed houses sometimes give him the creeps?

''It is a little nerve-racking. You just have to do it. It is what I get paid for. You get a bit sketched out sometimes,'' he said.

''I went round the back of a house once and a possum ran out from under a tree. I packed myself a little bit. I just call the police and security guys if I find anything suspicious.''

Garland keeps himself going with energy drinks and commercial radio.

How does he keep himself sane through the long dark nights?

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''I enjoy it. I like working by myself,'' he said.

''Sometimes you feel a bit lonely, but it's the life I chose. I enjoy it.

''The missus doesn't like it. She doesn't worry about me, but she doesn't like the fact I am not there at night.

''We have a baby on the way. It is pretty exciting. It is my first.''

- The Press

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