Today was the day when the government made a major announcement on the future of homes in Christchurch. The earthquake didn't just damage homes - it damaged the land beneath. There are large areas now where the land is so damaged that it can't be rebuilt on. It has become prone to flooding, and all the underground services are wrecked - "munted" is the slang term that has become very familiar lately - sewage, water and so on. To repair the land would require all the homes in the area - damaged or not - to be demolished, so the ground can be compacted, in some cases raised up to three metres, and all the underground services completely replaced. Also, in some areas it had been proposed to sink giant stone walls into the ground along the river banks to prevent lateral spreading. This is where the land moves sideways and develops huge cracks, usually towards the river as there is nothing to stop the sideways movement there. Only when the land repair is complete could the houses be rebuilt. This would mean at least three years, probably five or more, before the residents could return to their homes.
So, the city has been divided into four areas. Red zone residents - about 5000 homes - are being offered an immediate compensation package by the government so they can sell up and move on. The orange zone of another 10,000 homes requires further assessment, in particular because the June 13th aftershocks changed the situation yet again. Some of this zone will become red and some will become green. The green zone is OK to rebuild on. The white zone - mainly the hill suburbs - has not yet been assessed. The hazards in the white area are more related to rockfalls than flooding.
Our house, as expected, is in the green zone. And the landcheck website told us, earlier today, that this meant repair and rebuilding could now proceed. Yeah right, I thought, but we haven't even seen an insurance assessor yet, let alone had a payout. (300,000 insurance claims take a while to work through). Strangely, when I went to check the exact wording, I found it had been changed! It no longer says that repair and rebuilding can proceed immediately, just that we should talk with our insurer and EQC (the government earthquake insurance) about repairs. It also advises that some work should be delayed until ongoing aftershocks settle down.
I can't honestly say that if we were offered settlement today, we'd be in a hurry to begin work tomorrow. Plastering cracked walls and ceilings for instance, seems a little crazy when there is a 30% chance of another aftershock bigger than 6.0
So - for those in the red zone, a settlement offer will arrive within eight weeks, orange will have to wait several more months to be reclassified red or green, white will have to wait an indefinite time to get any sort of classification, and everyone but red will have to wait while the backlog of claims is processed and then until the ground stops shaking so that there is actually some point in fixing things up.
And while our house is zoned green, I was shocked to discover just how much of our area is zoned orange, including neighbours just three houses down the street towards the river, all the houses along the river just around the corner, and the house we lived in before we moved to our current house.
We had been planning to add on to that house to accommodate our growing family, and then spotted this one for sale, and decided it was so much easier just to move to a larger house rather than go through the problems of adding on. It was a lucky find, being large enough for a family of four children (later to be five), and only two blocks away.
I don't know whether to feel fortunate that we moved, or sad for our friends and neighbours still in limbo waiting for a final answer.