Twenty-one months in a caravan

02:33, Feb 22 2013
helen pearce
FEELING SAFER: Helen Pearce with one of the caravans she and her partner lived in after the Canterbury earthquake.

Like many Canterbury earthquake survivors Helen Pearce knows her insurance claim number off by heart and is still fearful of being inside big buildings despite moving to Temuka last December.

She was sitting down to a cup of coffee at her Bexley home when the earth shuddered and her 1.2 metre turtle tank started walking across the floor, then smashed.

Her escape from the building was prevented by the French doors jamming. She fell over and couldn't find her cellphone among the debris. Outside the fence posts had splayed with the force of the movement.

Ms Pearce's partner, Michael Foote, picked up their daughter, Israel, then eight, from school but the roads were in such a state he had to carry her on his shoulders and walk home.

The mother fights back tears as she recalls the destruction of most of their worldly goods, the liquefaction and the subsequent frustration with EQC, their insurance company, and living in a 3.9m caravan for eight months then a 7m one for the following 13 months.

"We could not leave the property because we discovered our insurance had an abandonment clause. If you leave after 30 days it is considered abandoned and not covered."


The highlight of those first weeks was a Kaiapoi church group delivering hot soup and bread every night.

She said they were lucky a friend from Temuka picked up three of their six rescue dogs, some turtles and their daughter. The same friends lent them money to buy the larger caravan as their drive was too unstable for a portacom to be located there. Within a week Israel was staying with her grandparents in the south of Dunedin and did not have to endure the aftershocks.

"It was the best thing to get her out of Christchurch. Her life just continued."

Not having contact with their daughter for the first month because of lack of cellphone coverage was the hardest part, she said.

She said the most exciting part of shifting into a fully functioning house again after nearly two hard years was the flushing toilet.

"You didn't want to get caught out on a chemical toilet during a shake."

Ms Pearce says she feels safer here but the awful memories do come back from time to time.

"When I unpacked, I'd unwrap a salt shaker and wonder where [the pepper] was - then remember."

The Timaru Herald