Christchurch quake: Tangled in red tape

Christchurch Cathedral on 27 April 2011, courtesy of Ross Becker, documentary photographer
Image caption Rubble still surrounds the cathedral in the cordoned-off city centre

Three months after a quake that scored a direct hit under Christchurch, many residents are struggling with mountains of paperwork required to get their homes repaired and rebuilt.

Image caption Pam works on her insurance claims

Reference numbers, codes and Pin numbers permeate our daily living now as we deal with the aftermath of two major earthquakes in six months.

We get them from the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and from private insurers - we are swamped with them.

How do I cope? I have a big whiteboard on the kitchen wall on which I write everything.

The easiest way to record all the damage is to photograph it. So we have about 150 of the house and contents - well, photos of piles of broken bits.

In a nearby shopping mall is a temporary valuations table where we all queue with our boxes full of broken bits to get an official quote for replacement.

While we wait, we exchange "where were you when it struck" quake stories. The second question is always "where are you living now?"

Assessors and adjusters

To make a claim, first it's ring the EQC, who give you a claim number that goes up on the board and then the emergency repair team are sent out.

In our area, broken water pipes were sealed off. Tile roofs looking like smashed Lego were taurpaulined. Broken and non-existent windows were filled in with plywood. And broken and moving walls shored up with hefty wooden bracing.

Then it's on to our private insurers to get another claim number, a reference number and Pin number should we contact them via the internet. All go on the whiteboard.

That's the house done.

Then there are the contents. Another claim number, reference number and Pin. Then a barrage of assessors and loss adjusters come around to fill in their reports.

So how does it all get paid for? Over the years that we pay insurance, a percentage goes to an EQC fund for just the type of disasters we have experienced. It insures homes, personal possessions and land against natural disasters.

We are very lucky to have this EQC pot to draw on, but there are a lot of complexities, anomalies and frustrations.

When February's quake struck, the EQC was still processing many of the 191,000 claims made since the big one last September. Now there almost 400,000 claims in the system.

Winter looms

Our house is full of cracks everywhere inside and out, braced up on one wall and sandwiched with plywood on the inside to keep it from moving and breaking up. We still use a bucket as a toilet, because the sewers empty into the river.

We have no primary heating as our gas fire had to be disconnected and removed.

Image caption A charity stair climb for Christchurch takes place at London's "Gherkin" high-rise on Sunday

There is a heating scheme, but they seem hell-bent on putting an electric heat pump into every home, which I consider to be shortsighted, in light of our fragile power network and the likelihood of outages.

A "clean-air-approved" log burner is my answer. I have access to free firewood. This would keep bills down in a time where my income is halved. The log burner would dry my washing and cook a potato if need be.

But many of us are being thwarted from installing log burners under this scheme.

Each morning, our radio dedicates three hours to post-quake issues - which land can never be rebuilt on, when the sewage system will stop discharging into our rivers, when we might be able to go back into the central city...

And still there are aftershocks.

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