Some Of My Favourite People Rosemary Hopgood
And Kindness Lay All About
Stories from the Christchurch Earthquakes
It was such an eerie feeling having no electricity, no power, especially at
night. It left you with the suspicion—the sensation—there was nobody there. One night I had been over at my mum’s and I had to go back
home to pick something up for my daughter and yeah, it was really quite spooky. Driving back round here with all the roads rough and no lights and wondering was there even anybody next door. And then
coming into a pitch-black house—maybe it wasn’t exactly spooky, but it had the feeling of a ghost town—a place abandoned.
It got worse after February. I was going down to my neighbours
one day to check on her. My friend Nessie was with me but there was nobody else about. No noise, no human noise, no people walking
around even though it was a fine day. A strong wind had come up and
started to blow so that I had to cover my face to stop dust getting in my eyes and mouth. On the way back it got so bad Nessie had a blanket
over her head and I had a handkerchief covering my mouth. We were
actually walking backwards. It’s true, we couldn’t walk facing into the wind—it was just awful. It reminded me then of a western movie, you
know, how in the old days you used to see a ghost town with the dust
howling and the tumbleweeds blowing down the street. Well there
weren’t any tumbleweeds of course, but apart from that you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference. It was quite weird. Not what we were used
to, a very different place, but I’ll tell you what, that sort of adversity, it did bring the neighbourhood closer together. That was the good bit.
I came over to Christchurch from the West Coast in the 1990’s
at a time when work was very hard to find. I do drafting, that’s my
profession. These days I work for myself drawing house plans, but in
those days, when I first came over, I found myself unemployed for quite a long stretch, and that was really hard. Even so, I found this house and
I was lucky that I have always been very careful with money. The place was everything I’d told myself I wasn’t going to have, but the day I
drove around the river and saw it, saw it in this lovely setting, I knew. Yeah, I knew. This would be the place for us to live. You can’t imagine how lovely it is to walk around the river at the end of your day. You take a bit of bread to feed the ducks and there’s always something different
to look at. Just the other night there were two Canadian geese having a bit of a spat. The day before there was a shag eating an eel. I saw
another shag the same night, one I’d never seen before with wonderful
white plumage all down its front. It was a really big bird, very beautiful. I’ve spent twenty years seeing things like this every night so maybe
you can understand the very real sadness in giving up a place like this. It might be all crumpled now, but just a short while ago it was a little piece of paradise.
And now… now it’s awful. I’ve only just started to come to terms
with it properly in the last couple of months. I used to burst into
tears at the drop of a hat just thinking about it. Ahh… let me see… starting to get emotional now… some people just don’t deal with change very well.
We realised we probably wouldn’t be allowed to rebuild after
February. I mean effectively the house was moved the best part of a metre towards the river and the whole area has sunk, so we started
looking around and we found a place out at Aidanfield. It has an outlook over to the Canterbury Reserve, so a very rural feel which is similar to what we’ve had here, a park at the back, the river at the front
and just a neighbour each side. No river at the new place, but it feels
okay. I mean, not as good as here—how it used to be—but it was the best we could find. We looked at a number of other places and they just
didn’t feel right and it has to feel right. It’s one of those things isn’t it, you have to feel right, and if you can’t imagine yourself living in some
place, then it’s not right for you. So, we are going to be in a new place… sorry, can I just take a minute… yes, sorry, this is hard.
I have thought it over and you should be excited about building a
new house, you should be, but when it is forced on you… it’s not the same. No, no, it’s not the same. But then life’s full of little surprises
isn’t it. Of course we say that, and then keep on thinking everything
will remain the same. I mean goodness me, I’m from the West Coast, I lived through the Inangahua earthquake. Earthquakes where nothing
new to me but nor were they something I thought would ever happen in Christchurch.
We didn’t jump out of bed, not immediately. It took me a few beats,
and then, wow, an earthquake. Actually, this is a big earthquake. It was
Richard that yelled out to the kids ‘It’s just an earthquake, don’t panic.’ When it finished shaking he jumped out of bed and straight away went
out to check on the neighbours. We’ve got an older couple on one side
and an older lady by herself on the other side. He found her looking out the front window and saying ‘I can’t get out.’ He said, ‘Have you tried the back door?’
‘Oh gosh,’ she said, ‘I didn’t think of that.’
It was the middle of the night and it was dark, all of our front doors
were stuck and we couldn’t get them open. I could see we had these
holes across the driveway where it had all sunk and I was a wee bit surprised to see that the house had moved off its foundations. There
was a bit of a crack about the size of a fist where the deck had separated from the house. It was pretty strange, people were out on the street
looking about but it was still quite cold so we decided to go back to bed and wait for the power to come back on—of course it didn’t.
As soon as it started getting light we got up and got dressed and
went out to inspect the damage. There were people out on the street wandering about, I think they’d been there since it happened. We were a bit surprised by what we saw. There wasn’t that much liquefaction
around us but we had water all over the road, right up to the footpath. A real soupy grey colour—it looked like the bottom of a really bad dishwasher—totally weird.
I suppose my first thought that morning was how are we going to
cope? Where are all our gas cookers? How long is the power going to be off ? What are we going to do with no water and how are we going to
wash, to have a shower and so on? I was also worried about my mother who was over at McCormacks Bay. It turned out her place wasn’t too badly damaged at that stage and so for the first week I went over there
and stayed most nights. Richard didn’t mind going over there for a meal,
but he wasn’t happy to be away from the house. He stayed in it every night just for security purposes. There was such an uncanny feeling there
at night with no electricity, I guess we are so used to light that it gave you the impression nobody else was there. Then again, a lot of people did actually pack up and go, pretty much straight away. Perhaps it wasn’t
such a weird sensation after all. The one good thing it did—the only good thing—was to bring the neighbourhood closer together.
We didn’t have a terrible amount of damage inside the house—a
few things fell over and broke but nothing too dreadful. Outside was a
little different. The house itself had moved and we weren’t sure initially how bad it was. I have an inquisitive mind so I was rather fascinated
by the power of this thing. I was going around sticking tapes down the cracks to see how deep they were—some of them were over a metre deep—and I thought, oh God, this is amazing. Everywhere there was a crack I’d poke a stick down to see how far down it went. And watching
the liquefaction—we had a wee bit out on the street—just seeing it bubbling up was something so new and so unlike anything I’d seen before I was really quite blown away by it.
The other noticeable thing round here—after September—we had
all the services coming in and checking on us. There was the Salvation
Army and all sorts of people bringing food and what have you. We
would arrive home and there would be parcels on the doorstep, all sorts of stuff. But after February, because things were then bad over
a far greater area of the east, we felt like we were a little bit left out. After February there was nothing. Yeah, that was quite weird, like we’d simply been forgotten.
February set you on edge. I had to make myself calm down. You
had to tell yourself to calm down for your kids’ sake. If you panic, then they are going to panic, and there’s no point in that. For the
sake of the family you must appear calm, relaxed, but what I can’t
deny… if I was to tell you the real truth… February set my heart racing.
In September my husband was the one that was worried at the
actual shaking and I was the calm one. But he dealt with the after-
effects—the long haul—better than me. Whereas I found it stressful not having the conveniences of electricity, or being able to turn on a tap, he took control and totally coped with the gas cooker and the water, all of that.
I felt we probably wore out our welcome with a lot of our friends
over that time. They were all so good to us, having us for showers
and for tea and lots of other things. We didn’t have to avail ourselves to all that I suppose, but we chose to. I don’t like going for days without a shower—a man can probably do that better than women
can—so we were over at his sister’s place most days. We had like a circuit of people, we’d try and do one person each week and that way
it sort of spread the load a wee bit, but the generosity of friends and family, really it was quite unbelievable. Especially those over on the west side of town who weren’t affected so badly, they were just going
out of their way to make sure that they could do as much as possible for us. They brought over food, they’d bring water, ringing us up to
see if we needed anything and then invite us out for tea. ‘And bring your washing, and have a shower at the same time,’ they’d say.
All this was after February. After the first one in September I still
had my mum. She was the one I went to, but in November, between
the two earthquakes, she died. After the big one she was no longer there for me to stay with. In a way I was pleased she wasn’t there. Her
house was totally trashed. I imagine she would have been thrown over, or fallen over, perhaps broken a hip or something like that. All of her windows broke, they just burst, and she would have been sitting at her wee card table doing a jigsaw puzzle looking out over the estuary, as she liked to do. Yeah, the thought of those windows just shattering, I was pleased she wasn’t there for that.
It was also very fortunate that my daughter was not at school that
day, I think they were having a union meeting or something and so all
the kids were having a half day. She got home about midday and I was
still working out here in my office when it started. It felt like a bomb had gone off underneath us and then everything, including me, started
shaking violently. I thought oh my God, do I try to stop my bookshelf from falling on me, or do I save my screen from falling over. I decided
on the shelf. It had fallen over in September and it landed right where I usually sat. As I hung onto it I looked outside and could see the car
bouncing out in the driveway and the house shaking like mad and that was the moment I realised, oh no, God no, Rebecca’s inside.
As soon as it finished I ran inside and I don’t even remember jumping
over what had now become a big gap in the driveway. Everything in the kitchen had been thrown out of the cupboards and there were broken
things mixed with the tomato sauce all over the floor. When I finally
got through to the bedroom Rebecca was standing absolutely still, like
she was in some totally frozen state. She had things fallen all around her so I just grabbed hold of her and gave her a big hug. I think we
were still in the bedroom when the next one hit and we just stood in
the doorway and then I said, ‘I think we better get out.’ We got as far as
the kitchen before there was another one so we stood in the door there
and finally we got outside and went to check on the neighbours again. That was also when I saw the gap at the back that I had thought was
bad before, now the back half of the house had pulled away from the
front house and the little crack between the deck and the house had turned into a gap of nearly a metre.
Once again the liquefaction came up and the power was off and
I was damn well going to lose my work again. When you’re drawing plans like I do, and you don’t save it, you lose it. Well, that was probably the least of it, we had no power, no water and no sewerage for about three weeks I think it was. Whatever it was, I can tell you it seemed like
a very long time, and this time round there was no mum to go home
to. Obviously I was worried about my son and husband but one was at university and the other on a building site—luckily not a large building
just a residential home, so I knew they’d be okay. Like September the
phones were difficult and while you are always anxious, I like to work on the principle that no news is good news. It took a few hours but finally we were all together.
Then it was back to finding a way to exist without the usual
amenities. The Council—the actual physical workers—I haven’t got
enough praise for them. When they finally got to our part of the world and were putting our water back on it was a really hard job. All the old
pipes were totally busted and rusted, completely broken. I remember it
was on a Friday afternoon and they were getting close to quitting time, it must have been around 4 pm, but the guy said, ‘Don’t worry love, I’m
going to stay here until we’ve got you connected tonight.’ And he did. He finally came over said, ‘Right, there’s water at the gate, go and see if there is water in your tap.’ So off I went to try it. ‘No,’ I said, ‘there’s not.’
‘Well, I’m sorry.’ He looked nearly as disappointed as me. ‘We’ve
tried our best but the problem now must be on your property. You’ll have to get someone else to fix that for you.’
Lucky for us my husband knows what he’s doing. It didn’t take
him long to dig up the lawn and find the pipes and put in a new connection, so that was really good. But yeah, as far as the Council staff
is concerned, they have been really wonderful. Not quite so impressed
with the hierarchy, but that’s another story. I mean Bob Parker came across as a really caring sort of person so long as there is a TV camera
in front of him. And that was the disappointing part—he didn’t seem to do much otherwise.
I also think we need to get rid of the CEO—I don’t know how
they’re appointed—and I’m digressing a wee bit here but I don’t believe
that anybody is worth that amount of money. I mean, to get a pay rise in the middle of all this, a rise of more than most of their staff are
probably earning, I think that’s disgusting. I mean he’s earning more than the Prime Minister—good God—how wrong is that!
As for the actual workers out there in the field, they are doing a great
job and I don’t think they get enough recognition. I said to the guys
who empty our temporary sewer tank every day, ‘You’re my favourite
people on the street. When your truck comes along the road I’m filled with happiness.’ Well, seeing them means I’m going to be able to use my toilet tomorrow. So yeah, the guys on the street doing the hard
work; great. The people getting big money to organise things; pathetic. I had a friend who lives up near the foot of the Cashmere hills. They
had several portaloos around their road, for which they had no need. Yet you had people out around Brighton, Aranui and Wainoni who
had none at all. We were lucky. After it first happened we had one up around the corner, not so good if you were busting, but at least we did
have one. And that’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. This CEO, this Marryatt, he gets a sixty-eight thousand dollar pay rise and we’ve still got people out here, people who pay his wages, having to use chemical toilets. It just sucks!
I was actually on the TV about this sort of thing. They were talking
about the AMI Stadium. I mean the fact that they could even think
about diverting resources to fixing up a rugby stadium when we’ve got
old people having to poo in a bucket—it’s just not on. At some point common sense has to prevail. Don’t talk to me about how stressful Mr Marryatt’s job is. Not when that’s going on. Everybody is stressed; it’s taking a toll on us all, so get real.
Boxing Day, I’ve heard people talk about it, but I honestly have no
recollection. Obviously it wasn’t significant for me. June was a different story. We had a German student staying with us and that was the other thing that the February earthquake affected. My daughter went
to Germany in December, the year before, and we were supposed to do
the exchange thing in December 2010, but because of the September earthquake it got put off. In the end we had to write a letter effectively begging the school to let Christin come. We told them that if our
house wasn’t safe we wouldn’t be allowed to be living in it, and in the end they did let her come. She arrived in April and the day that she left
was the thirteenth of June. She had to be at the airport at 2 o’clock and so we were about ready to leave when the first one hit.
Fortunately I had just gone inside because she was panicking big
time. She’d been through quite a few smaller ones during the time she
was here, but none were like this. Although things didn’t fall out of the cupboards—not for the first one—she was shaken and so I grabbed
hold of her and gave her a hug and stood in the doorway and calmed
her down. Still, she was shaking like a wee leaf, as you would expect. As we left the house there didn’t seem to be anything untoward, I don’t
even think the power went off with that first one. Actually, I don’t know that I even checked it. There was no liquefaction anyway and
there was no flooding at that stage, so we tootled off to the airport and that’s where we were when the next one arrived. The good thing was she didn’t panic so much out there. I said to her, ‘Look, if we are not
safe in a brand new building, we are not safe anywhere, so don’t panic.’ The girl behind the counter was great too. ‘Just stand still, you’ll be fine,’ she said.
With this one things did fell off shelves all around us and the
building seemed to gently sway. It wasn’t too bad although it did seem
to last for a long time. I suspect it was because the building kept on moving until it settled down again. Then we got evacuated out into the
car park with everybody being very orderly, there was no panicking, nobody running, nobody rushing or screaming or anything like that, it was all very calm and yeah, totally stress free. Unfortunately, my phone battery was almost flat and I thought I’d better try to save it. I did send a text to my daughter, to my son and to my husband to let them
know that we were at the airport and that I had to stay with Christin. Rebecca was at school so I figured that she’d be safe there and that they
would look after her. If they did get sent home then the school would
work it out. I did finally try to ring her, but I couldn’t get through. We were out in the car park for about an hour and a half until they checked
the building and then we were allowed back in. Her flight was due to
leave at 4 pm and we got back in at quarter to four and so her flight was late. It meant her connections onwards were going to be disrupted
as well, so that was pretty bad for her. And once we got back in she had to go straight through to the departure lounge so, okay, now it was time to go home and find the family.
I went back via the school at Burnside to see if Rebecca was still
there but she had already gone—the school had already sent the kids
off in buses. It must have taken me about an hour and a half I think to get home from Burnside, or from the airport. By the time I did get back the damn roads were flooded again which is always a bit nerve-
racking to drive through. You didn’t know how deep it was or whether there were big cracks or holes beneath the water as there had been in
September and February. In the end I drove slowly through the water all the way to our home and Rebecca was already there. When she saw me walk in she went mad.
‘Why didn’t you text me after—you could have been dead for all
I’m glad you cared.’ I said,
The longer all this has gone on the more stressed we all become.
The text I’d sent her arrived the next day.
If you think twenty-four hours is a long time to wait for a text,
try dealing with insurance companies. The stress of having to leave here and build a new house is taking its toll on us. For me it’s not
happening quick enough, but that’s just another whole different scenario. Now that we have moved on in our heads, the daily grind of dirt and dust, tripping over bits of concrete, or even cleaning the
house that is constantly showered in dust as cars and trucks go past
has become rather stressful. It’s got to the point now where I can’t wait to move on from a place I dearly loved.
The truth is we are the lucky ones because we’ve settled with
the insurance company and can move on. Those people who are still battling to even be able to talk to their insurance companies are not so lucky. I know one lady—she hasn’t been able to talk to
anybody since November last year, now that’s totally wrong. These insurance companies that are not being fair, they need to be publicly
shamed. At some point when all of this has settled down… when
people have started to move on—are able to move on—there needs to be somebody who will actually compile some kind of publication
about how the insurance companies have performed and pick out those that have acted decently and shame the ones that have been shocking.
They say that once we have all gone this area will end up becoming
a park, I hope that’s what happens. It would mean we could all come
back and be here in some way. Walk by the river and so on. If I ever came back and found somebody else had been allowed to build here, I’d
be really ticked off. As for the future, yes, I feel positive. I would hope
that in a few years we’ll have settled into our new home. Who knows,
possibly our daughter may have left home. My son is at university now, so I suppose in a few years he could conceivably be anywhere. Perhaps overseas somewhere gaining some experience. For Richard and me—I
can’t imagine going anywhere else. For all that I come from Westport, and loved it, I don’t want to move back there. I like Christchurch… I’m surprised that it’s functioned so well without a city. And the fact that it is functioning without a city centre begs the question—do we
need to have the city centre? It’s hard to know until you find out how
much is actually going to be left of it. I imagine that there will be a lot more green space in any new city though personally, I can’t see it being finished in my lifetime. And I’m not even that old, which is a
bit sad. I just can’t really imagine it. I can’t picture what the city is
going to end up looking like. And to be perfectly honest I haven’t really thought about it a whole lot. It’s been hard enough coping with our own little dilemma without worrying about what will become of the city in twenty years time.
I suppose in the end it has made us think a little more about what’s
important—really important in life—rather than the little things
that usually distract us. That’s what it’s done for me anyway. Take the house… I don’t care about the house. The fact that it’s going to be
demolished; I don’t care because the house isn’t what makes it special around here. It was the whole area that made it special and a big part of
that was the neighbours. The neighbours who have always been there to feed the cat if we went away on holiday, the neighbours who look
out for the other person to make sure they’re safe. The fact that you know there is always going to be somebody there watching out, that we’ve all been there for each other, that’s what you call important.
I mean you take Joan next door, my mother, and her brother, they
died very much at the same time and so we were there for each other
over that. And yes, okay, over the years we have had our arguments, the
trees blocking the sun or whatever, but now that sort of thing, well, it’s just insignificant—it doesn’t matter. There are only four of us left
around this part now and Joan is on her own. She still doesn’t know whether she is going to move out of Christchurch or whether she is
going to stay, and so we will try to help her to make a good decision for herself. The choices we all have to make now are hard; it has been and still is a huge thing for all of us. But then that’s what friends are
for aren’t they, so we don’t have to go through life, through all this, on our own.
And Kindness Lay All About. Stories from the Christchurch Earthquakes.