I’m sitting in the office of Tracy, the community worker for Kaiapoi Baptist, and just trying to get my head around all I’ve seen and heard in the last hour or so.
Firstly, Tracy is a dynamo of passion and commitment to this community. As we cruised around the streets of Kaiapoi and the nearby beach suburbs she poured forth an intimate insiders’ view of what has happened, what is happening, and why. We talked about the fact that for many in Kaiapoi, the September earthquake was the major event, rather than the February one. Much media attention is focused on February’s quake, which killed people – largely because it occurred during the day – but Tracy tells me that the nightmare really began in September.
“What was the impact of the February Quake, then?” I ask.
“Brokenness upon brokenness,” she replies.
In Kaiapoi, 20% of the homes are red-zoned. One in every five! We drove around through neighbourhoods that were utterly deserted. Here and there a lone resident hanging on in a miraculously livable house – or just a stubborn person refusing to move. For many such neighbourhoods, however, the council is having to cut off their services, and then all but the most obstinate will be forced to go, whether their home has been damaged or not.
Worse than the red-zoning of houses, however, are the land assessments; many areas have been assessed as TC3, meaning that rebuilding on that land will require stringent earthquake resistance measures. Insurance usually only covers like for like, and so a great many can’t afford to rebuild on their own property. Again, they have to leave. A large number of residents were retired or near retirement. They’ve now had to use their retirement savings, or obtain new mortgages, in order to build in a new part of town. Rents have skyrocketed, land prices in the new subdivisions have increased in value, and building materials are at a premium as demand drives prices higher and higher. Additional price pressure comes from Christchurch residents, looking for somewhere new to live, and moving into this outlying community. With all these pressures, everybody can name friends, family and neighbours who have simply left the area, leaving social voids that echo the empty spaces along so many streets, where homes once stood and now weeds grow amongst graffiti-ed rubble.
We also drove around the new suburbs, sites of busyness as new homes pour like wet concrete over flat farmland. Houses here have to be built to certain specifications – three-level rooflines and the like – and again the standard is often a higher one than that of the homes that the insurance companies are replacing. So again, people are facing new mortgages at a time when they thought that they were freehold, or much larger mortgages than they thought they would ever have to endure. People who had retired or stayed home to care for children are returning to the workforce. People with one job are looking for a second – or third – job to make ends meet and make repayments. Families are seeing less of each other as financial burdens increase. Communities and neighbourhoods that were settled and pleasant places are disbanding and scattering and there is no choice in the matter. This is a refugee situation in a first world nation.
These physical and financial impacts are merely the surface of the emotional and social impacts. Domestic violence increased 30% following the September quake, so DV services from Rangiora relocated to Kaiapoi. After the September quake, councils and insurance companies made plans and laid out a road-map for recovery, and things were under way when the February quake happened, and everything changed again. People no longer feel that their life is under control, and men, especially, are reacting to this. Nothing is stable, nothing is reliable. Who can you trust? How can you plan when the rules keep changing? And post-trauma stress is real. Tracy remembers the screams from the church child-care centre when the February quake hit children who were beginning to recover from the life-shattering event of the previous September, and the looks on the faces of parents who ran from everywhere to be with their children. She talks about what it’s like to be a quake survivor feeling the thud and crash of demolitions going on next door, when every sudden noise brings back vertiginous memories of floors swaying and ground dropping and bucking and ceilings cracking, sagging, showering you with plaster, and the earth at your feet gaping open and gushing forth liquefaction like some primeval wound. I stood amidst the mess of the aftermath, and the sheer brokenness of the homes around me was a tearing ache in my spirit. Imagine what it must have been like in the terror of the moment.
And then, she says, you finally have a nice new home, and life seems to be going back to normal, and yet you still feel completely abnormal; filled with grief and anger and pain and anxiety, and what do you do with these feelings now? Now that the crisis is ‘over’? People feel guilty, she said, for still feeling bad when their neighbours might still be wrestling with insurance company intransigence, or changing council requirements, or serious injury. So feelings get stuffed, and emerge in other ways.
And yet there is also hope. As I type, I have in front of me a black wooden block with a big red heart painted on it, and the single word, ‘hope’. These were gifts from the ‘Ark’ childcare centre to their community. Psalm 23.4 (look it up) is on the back. Tracy is filled with passion and enthusiasm for her community, not just as the response of a warm and generous heart to the pain of her friends and neighbours, but also because she has seen so much of what God can and is doing for this place – especially through his people here. Though the church, too, has suffered, it has become a centre of healing. Unlike so many agencies that were established and funded to provide help in the days after the quake, and have since closed their doors, Kaiapoi Baptist isn’t going anywhere. It belongs here and will continue to make a difference. Its dinners, its film evenings for seniors (Kaiapoi has lost its movie theatre), its children’s groups and activities, its networking amongst the agencies and councils make it a strategic player for recovery. The connections of the church to the community are personal, prophetic, and powerful. They don’t just speak hope, they are that hope in the lives of so many.
How does that work? That’s for the next post…