Hamilton haven not quite home

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 21/02/2013
Merv Arnesen
Chris Hillock/FAIRFAX NZ

Settling in: Buying a house, not the anniversary of the February earthquake, will be celebrated by Merv Arnesen and his wife.

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Despite owning a house in Hamilton East and a business in Glenview, Merv and Toni Arnesen will never quite call Hamilton home.

The couple moved from Christchurch with their four children in May 2011 after the February 22 earthquake wrecked their shoe repair business and forced them to leave their home.

Both were born and raised in the city, and cutting ties has not come easy.

"You're not ever going to be from the Waikato," Toni Arnesen said. "You're always going to be from Canterbury, living in the Waikato. I appreciate living here - and I'm glad we are here - but it is never going to be where I come from."

When the family arrived in Hamilton, they knew nothing about it and no-one in it.

"That is the hardest thing when you move away - you have no local knowledge," Mrs Arnesen said. "Of course we didn't know anyone here when we arrived so we had nobody to ask."

A GPS system, Mr Arnesen said, was the best purchase they made.

Last month, the couple bought a house, and come tomorrow - exactly two years after the earthquake - that is what they will be celebrating.

"This year it will be a month since we bought our first house, and that's our priority.

"Last year we marked the anniversary, but this year we want the kids to move on, stay in school and have another normal day. You don't need a day to stop and remember it, because you live with it."

The February earthquake took a big toll on the couple.

It gutted their shop, and Merv and their then 11-year-old son, who were in the store when the quake struck, just survived falling masonry. Two people nearby, including a man parked in front of their store, were not so lucky.

The couple have not been back to Christchurch since they left, despite an ongoing fight with the EQC and insurance companies about repairs to their home.

Although Mr Arnesen would like to return, his wife is adamant she will not be back any time soon.

"I would maybe go back in 20 years when it is up and running and does not look anything like it does at the moment. But not while it's full of empty sections and half-demolished buildings."

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