Living on the red zone fringe

SHAHRA WALSH
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2013
Shahra Walsh's daughter Charlie
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ
NEAR THE WASTELAND: Shahra Walsh and her daughter Charlie are living on the edge of the red zone in their damaged TC3 home.

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Christchurch's red zone will be cleared by the end of next year, but some Cantabrians are still living on its edge. SHAHRA WALSH, who works for The Press, tells her story.

I live in a Technical Category 3 (TC3) property bordered by the residential red zone in North New Brighton. Houses all around me are coming down.

There are few signs of earthquake recovery in our street. The number of abandoned TC3 properties outnumber those that have been repaired.

My property has been scoped, apportioned, re-scoped and re-apportioned. Assessors hinted that it snuck in just under cap.

Our claim has stalled, waiting to be assigned to a Fletchers hub, so that someone can come and have a proper look.

The Earthquake Commission had promised me claims within the $50,000-plus category would be under way by the end of 2013, but I suspect our claim is filed neatly in the too-hard basket. The land is very badly damaged, category 8.

There have been cases nearby where insurers have pulled out altogether, offering payouts for residents to move to more insurable properties on lower-risk land. Unofficially red-zoned. It's TC3, but may as well be TC4.

My home is badly damaged but liveable, although it's pretty hard.

The floors are uneven. Windows are cracked, nailed shut, insulated with bubble wrap. Doors either won't stay open or won't stay shut.

It is surrounded by decaying red-zone properties. Many green zone homes that remain were abandoned, too. Neighbours still here say they are just waiting for that repair sign-off to put their houses on the market and leave.

I am eager to move and have a potential buyer but won't know the house's value until firm decisions are made on its future.

The shaking, dust and noise of the constant demolition upset those left here.

One afternoon, I came across an elderly female neighbour, sitting in the gutter being comforted by a second elderly neighbour.

She said, "rather than sit inside and cry, I thought I'd come out here . . ."

I can hear and feel an excavator scraping up the charred remains of a red-zone house that was claimed by arson. A scary but unfortunately real threat posed by living so near to the wasteland.

I try to ignore signs that the derelict houses may be harbouring vandals, squatters and arsonists.

I keep an outside light on at night, to let them know someone's still here, and to encourage them to commit their crimes further away. I keep a bag packed and ready by the door, in case we need to leave during the night.

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The wildlife population has exploded. I have rehomed two cats. Another, too feral to catch, used to sneak in the cat door at night for warmth. He'd just sit there until he heard someone coming. He's gone now.

Birds, geese and fantails are everywhere. Ducks swim in swampy puddles where houses used to sit. I've seen hawks gliding overhead, screeching. There was even a red-zone rooster.

Water, sewage and electricity services are consistent, but not thanks to a bolstered infrastructure, just the absence of sizeable seismic activity.

One day, this house might be fixed and surrounded by parkland. But, it definitely won't be any day this year. Or next.

- The Press

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