New Zealand's 2011 Earthquake 6 years later The Continuing Struggle for Homeowners Trying to Rebuild

On February 22, 2011, an earthquake registering 6.3 on the Richter scale hit New Zealand’s South Island, in Christchurch, the country’s second largest city. The earthquake struck 10 kilometers south of the city, causing widespread damage and killing 185 people. This was the fifth deadliest natural disaster in New Zealand’s history.

A city bus is crushed from debris during the 2011 earthquake

An estimated 170,000 buildings were either partially damaged or fully destroyed. Thousands of families saw their homes ruined. A state of emergency was declared, and lasted for two months in the Christchurch area. Roads and bridges were damaged, and obstructed rescue vehicles from entering the area. Water and silt spewed forth from the ground, as flooding and soil liquefaction occurred. The six-story Canterbury Television building collapsed and killed 115 of the 185 victims. The earthquake struck at lunchtime, when many people were walking around on the streets, and a dozen people died from falling debris.

“It felt as though something had taken hold of the building and was shaking it furiously from side to side and up and down.... It was like some giant or maybe King Kong taking hold of the building and shaking it.”

Many people witnessed the earthquake, and although the quake lasted only 10 seconds, it was a calamitous 10 seconds.

“It felt as though something had taken hold of the building and was shaking it furiously from side to side and up and down.... It was like some giant or maybe King Kong taking hold of the building and shaking it.” one Christchurch resident said.

Christchurch's Earthquake was the 5th largest natural disaster in the country's history

Immediately following the earthquake, over 80% of Christchurch had no power. Water and wastewater pipes were damaged, and many did not have access to safe, clean water. Prime Minister John Key declared a national civil defense emergency, and the New Zealand Red Cross began raising money to aid the victims of the earthquake. Authorities isolated off the central district of Christchurch.

In the aftermath, over 1,240 building were reported to have safety problems, and had to be demolished. Several important or historic buildings were damaged in the earthquake, including the Christchurch Cathedral, and the Christchurch Hospital. In March 2011, Prime Minister John Key announced the creation of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) to manage the recovery of the Christchurch area.

The 2011 earthquake was the worst natural disaster in recent memory, and not only did it do physical damage, but economic damage as well. The estimated cost of recovery was $30 Billion NZD. The earthquake hindered population growth, 2.4% of Christchurch’s population, about 9,000 people moved to other areas of New Zealand. For 4 subsequent years following the earthquake, Christchurch became the third most populous city in New Zealand, falling behind the capital city, Wellington. Even though Christchurch regained its position as the second most populated city, it took 6 slow years to rebuild. And there is still a lot more work to be done.

Not Enough

Although a state of emergency was declared, the effort to rebuild Christchurch and restore families’ homes has been a slow, arduous process. Many victims of the earthquake who saw their homes and properties destroyed have complained of delays and disputes of insurance claims.

John and Miriam Brody, a native Christchurch couple, were forced to move out of their home in 2011 when it was declared unsafe.

"We have cracks you can crawl through, roof leaks, a spring running through the basement, walls leaning downhill, asbestos and electrics that pose a risk of fire or electrocution," John said.

Six years after the earthquake, little development has been made in settling the claims John filed with his insurance company.

Prime Minister John Key addresses the media following the quake

New Zealand has a system in place to reimburse natural disaster related damage to residential houses up to $100,000 NZD. Mr. and Mrs. Brody’s damage is estimated to be around $750,000 NZD.

Mr. and Mrs. Brody have purchased another home to live in while they are waiting for the insurance company to respond to their claim. But they still pay mortgage and insurance on their damaged property. Their tightening financial burden is taking a toll on their lives.

"Two years of paying two mortgages, insurances and sets of rates is simply crippling."

The Brody’s are just one example of families that have gotten nowhere with insurance companies, and feels like the New Zealand Government has forgotten about them.

Around 4,600 insurance claims have not been settled yet.

"Damp is permeating the house and our home, which was once in beautiful condition, is now rotting."

Theon Greyjoy, who moved from Pyke to Christchurch in 2005, is still living in his partially destroyed home. He cannot step foot in his living room or guest bedroom because the large holes on the side of his house caused the exposed rooms to become moldy.

"Damp is permeating the house and our home, which was once in beautiful condition, is now rotting." Theon said.

Dakota Peterson’s house was in one of the worst-hit areas of the city. His neighborhood was “red zoned” after the quake, making it unlikely that houses could be rebuilt there. His claim with the insurance providers is still in limbo, and he is uncertain that he will be able to keep paying his mortgage payments.

Dakota was one of thousands who took part in a rally in Christchurch back in February to highlight the continuing insurance strife. Residents voiced their anger and frustration towards the Earthquake Commission (EQC), and other private insurance companies.

Megan Woods, Labour party spokeswoman for the earthquake recovery team, talked at the rally. She says recovery efforts were slower than similar natural disasters in countries such as Japan and Chile. She criticized the insurance companies and the government for their slow efforts to help people rebuild their houses and heal.

Residents of Christchurch protest unsettled insurance claims

"We think the government should have taken a much more active role and not allow private insurers to do what they want."

The protesters demanded legislation to accelerate settlement of all remaining claims, and to charge penalties on private insurers if they failed to meet the deadlines.

Insurance companies have said they settled 90% of residential and commercial claims, and they understand the frustration of people whose claims have not yet been managed.

In a letter to the residents of Christchurch, the insurance companies said "We believe for a future natural disaster that the Government should make changes so that all claims are lodged with your insurer who should have responsibility for assessing the claim.”

Rebuilding Efforts

On March 15, 2017, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English announced the passage of the Christchurch Reconstruction Act, which allocates $250 Million to subsidizing the rebuilding efforts for homeowners.

"This will be a long, steady process, but we are committed to finishing the work started 6 years ago, and getting every resident that has been waiting this long back into their homes" English said.

Christchurch has also seen their economy bounce back. From 2015 to 2016, there has been an increase of 1.6% in residents, up to 380,000, again making Christchurch the second largest city in New Zealand.

Students at the University of Canterbury

Enrollment at The University of Canterbury and University of Otago, Christchurch has also increased in the past few years. Study abroad students are studying in Christchurch again, and I has become a destination for travelers.

Wanderlist, the #1 social media app for study abroad students, is proud to announce that we will be establishing a base in Christchurch, and students, travelers and residents alike will be able to use our app to meet new people in the area. Wanderlist will arrive in Christchurch in September 2017, and we will have a launch party at Father Ted's Irish Pub on Walker St. Stay tuned for more information.

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