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I got talking to Effie Vlanderen, a friend of Lesley’s, about her experiences of the earthquakes. I also wanted to add this interview into the article I was going to write. Effie Vlanderen, who is originally from Wieringermeer, Netherlands, lives with her husband, Henk, from Amsterdam, in Redwood, a suburb north of Christchurch city centre. Her parents emigrated to New Zealand in 1956 when she was two. They have children and grandchildren in Christchurch. Effie was driving to Wellington on 22nd February.

Her husband Henk though, who delivers for Moots Meatmarket, was driving around the Dallington area of Christchurch when the truck started jumping around the road with the quake. He said that it felt like a big one and thought he’d better pull over. As he did that, the road started opening up in front of him and liquefaction came squirting out of the road. So he planted his foot on the accelerator to get through it as he still had three customers to see. Effie’s cousin died in the Pyne Gould building that day. She was in her early forties. Her cousin’s daughter was also in the same building and she got out alive after five and a half hours, with damage to her legs.

Luckily Effie and Henk only have cosmetic damage to their house, with cracks in the walls. After the February earthquake, they still had water and power. But when I spoke to her, in January 2012, they were still waiting to get the cosmetic repairs in their house fixed but their driveway and path had been repaired. As I mentioned before, in January, Christchurch was still experiencing a lot of aftershocks. There were two big aftershocks in December 2011, one on the 23rd and a second on the 26th. Effie said that their windows and doors creak every time an aftershock occurs. She also mentioned the fact that there was a very strong community spirit, especially in the areas where there was a lot of liquefaction. Her local church went around the cordoned areas, in the middle of the night, to bring food and drink to the navy, army and police crews who were helping out in the area.

“Things are different in the city now,” Effie said, “people are going to the local shops and malls now, instead of the city.” I asked her what her hopes are for the city. She said “as a Dutch person, I’d like to see more cycle paths in the city, like in the Netherlands. Because it’s quite flat around Christchurch, I think it’s ideal for biking.” “Would you be happy to stay in Christchurch?” I asked her. “I don’t see any need to move” she said “because most of our children and grandchildren live in the suburbs of the city. You’d think maybe of moving to Australia but how often would we see our children then?”

Effie, very kindly, offered to drive me out to a suburb on the Kaiapoi river, which was badly damaged by the February quake. I wanted to take some photos here too and see for myself, what the damage was like. Some of the houses here were only newly built five years ago and a lot of them were badly damaged with standing pillars broken, bad cracks in their walls and some with very bad roof damage. A lot of them were empty too, with their owners having to desert their houses because either the house or the land was compromised.

In June 2011, a government land report divided the city and surrounding areas into colour-coded zones. Red for land deemed too damaged to economically repair, orange for properties requiring further assessment, green for land where rebuilding could start and white in areas needing more geotechnical work. By February 2012, around 6750 properties had been zoned red, meaning they are subject to a government buyout offer, based on previous valuations.

The buyout offers drew ongoing protests from residents who said they will lose large sums of money on their properties. On top of this, there has been controversy over insurance assessments of repairs and rebuilding, ongoing aftershocks have led to insurers not offering any new earthquake cover in Christchurch and questions over land damage have delayed approvals for work in the green-blue zone. So a lot of people are very angry and frustrated with the EQC, insurers and the city council. Tony Marryatt, the local authority’s chief executive, was awarded a 68,000NZD pay rise. Even though he turned down the offer, four thousand people protested about this in February 2011.

That evening, we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner. They were friends of Lesley’s, called Jacquie and Billy, who live in an area called Woodend, further north of the city. Billy is from Belfast and Jacquie’s from the UK. Jacquie cooked a delicious meal for us all and because I was so engrossed in the photos she was showing us after dinner, I barely felt the small earthquake that happened. It only lasted about two seconds and I think I caught the tail end of it. We got talking about earthquakes and Margriet, who was with us also, said that there was one quake years ago where she saw a brick fence curve and hop along the ground in front of her! That’d be a scary but fascinating thing to see.