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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Still can't fault staying

Still can't fault staying

Last updated 14:07 18/06/2011
Above: Lyttleton's Timeball Station, until February one of the few remaining working timeballs in the world.

When we bought our house in Diamond Harbour 20 years ago, the only natural disaster I had in mind was losing my job and being unable to pay the mortgage.

In other words we felt a bit like Greece and Ireland do at the moment.

Because the house was fairly ancient, we also had misgivings about borer but given the events of the last year I suspect even they have stopped holding hands and taken flight for more promising eateries.

Since those halcyon days when concerns about how to bring up genius children and paying the bills were the main worries of the day, new shadows have slowly crept in.

Climate change and the resulting sea level rise was one. We used to congratulate ourselves for buying on a hillcrest, well above any possibly encroaching waves. We had the view and proximity to the sea, without the risk of being inundated some time in the next 50 years.

The only local knowledge of natural disasters was the tsunami of the early 60s, when a Chilean earthquake sent a wave across the Pacific to land at the doorstep of the pub in Teddington, on the upper Lyttelton Harbour, to flood the bar and surrounding fields. It also took out the pipeline bringing water to Diamond Harbour.

The odd brush fire did make me wonder about how we would cope if an inferno came down from the hills. But knowing the super-human powers of our local fire brigade, I fancied our chances with that one.

A lot can happen in 20 years, but not much did.

In the last 12 months or so, however, as you may have noticed, quite a bit has. I believe our run of disasters started earlier than September 4 last year when Christchurch, out of the blue, had its first earthquake.

People have forgotten the tsunami of March when I was nearly caught by a very quick incoming sea as I stood in the middle of Purau Bay looking for a flapping fish to photograph. Although a damp squib of a disaster, I did think it had potential.

The September earthquake, in our naive appreciation of the phenomenon at the time, seemed pretty serious but it was centred in the country around Darfield, a long way from Diamond Harbour.

Despite the distance, the house, which had grown another storey in the past 20 years, felt as though it would fall apart in the 7.1 shake.

The February earthquake moved the epicentre a little closer to home as it was located near Lyttelton which, for those who don't venture much past their front gates, is just across the water from Diamond Harbour.

We can see the ruins of what used to be the Timeball Station. Our house sustained a bit more damage than September but nothing structural.

This week's earthquakes moved the epicentre a bit closer again. If you follow Geonet you will often see the location details refer to Diamond Harbour. In fact, any reference to the southeast of Christchurch places the aftershock pretty close to our little enclave on Banks Peninsula. We appear to have our own fault running right outside our front gate. You can imagine that will be a big selling point.

"Four bedrooms, fantastic views all round, big garden and your own fault just outside the front door. Open home on Saturday unless aftershocks."
The house sustained a lot more damage in Monday's shakes but is still standing and although we had a big clean-up to do, at least we lost neither power nor water.

This is a thing we commonly say to each other in Christchurch now. "At least we haven't got this or we haven't got that."

I was at home, on leave to finish a book on earthquake survivors, when the latest 6.3 hit. I sat at my desk thinking it was just another aftershock but when things started breaking and smashing I headed out the door. While inside, the main noise I heard was the shower door breaking into the thousands of pieces I would have to gather up later. The hot water cylinder crashed through a wall but righted itself, and after I tightened some fastenings it stopped leaking.

Outside something far more awe- inspiring was happening. The hill range behind us, which includes Mt Evans and The Monument, was thundering; a hollow, surf-like roar that made you think the range itself could collapse. A similar thing was happening to the Port Hills with boulders and rocks raining down on both sides.

It's true what they say. At times like that the long-term viability of this city does seem questionable, but as I sat drinking coffee in a spring-like sun today, looking over the sea hiding our very own fault, I thought it could be worse.

At least I'm on the end of a shovel wading my way through tonnes of spewed-up sand. At least we have a house.

After 20 years in this house, to which I feel increasingly loyal, do we abandon ship? And miss all the excitement? You must be joking.

After all, who can say they have their own fault just outside the door?

- The Press

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