Monday, March 14, 2011

The dreaded red sticker

The boy-child and I watched an enormous digger on metal tracks rumble past our house, take a wide left at the intersection 20 metres down the road, and manoeuvre itself into the driveway of the lovely triple brick house two from the corner.

Within minutes the sound of twisted iron, shattered glass and crashing bricks as the huge toothed-bucket on a mechanical arm nudged and prodded and raked the house into submission.  One man, three levers and a red sticker - all you need to raze a 100 year old home to the ground.  (The structural integrity of the house was compromised after the 6.3 'aftershock' on February 22.)

The beautiful old brick villa with the deep veranda sold last year after an extensive renovation.  All that money spent on rejuvenating it, all that money paid for it, all that vision, and all those dreams invested in it - gone.

It's such a waste.  And all over Christchurch, there are similar stories.  I know of several properties that were damaged during the September quake and have undergone or were undergoing repairs, only to be flattened in February.  It seems so futile.

My husband's parent's house was damaged by a falling chimney stack during the September quake.  It crashed through the roof into one of the back bedrooms, narrowly missing Great Uncle H, 99 and visiting from Australia.  The crane operator who removed the toppled section of chimney said it weighed 1.5 tonnes.

As a precaution, they removed the remaining two chimney stacks to just below the roof-line.  Each chimney stack housed three flues, one flue for an upstairs fire and two for downstairs.  They were fairly substantial.

Mr T's parents' house minus three chimneys after the 7.1 earthquake, September 2010.

On 4 September at 4.35am the third or back chimney stack fell through the roof
into a back bedroom that was occupied at the time.  The tarp covers the hole. 

During the February 22 quake, the chimneys collapsed internally.   On the right hand side (as you look at the house from the road) the chimney sheered off about one metre from the floor of the first story almost up to the ceiling in one slab, crashing and smashing into a living area that Mr T's sister and her two-year old daughter had left just seconds before the quake.  The other chimneys crumbled at the base, too.

It means the three chimneys running through the second story up to the roof line are unsupported.  Apparently, during aftershocks, you can see the house sway; top-heavy, precarious.  When settled, it lists to the left.

The engineer's report said that if were not for the chimneys, the house would be structurally fine.  It has been 'red stickered' - part of the new lexicon for condemned.  'Munted' is another.

Mr T's parents' house at Peterborough Street, Christchurch
has been  condemned  after  February's quake.
The George Hotel is to the right, and across Park Terrace, Hagley Park.
Fortunately, Philip Trusttum's studio at the rear of the house has been spared.

Because the house is within the CBD - the red zone - it is cordoned off under armed guard.  They cannot go back into the house; it is too unsafe.  And while they took immediate refuge in the garage and studio at the rear of the house, before moving out of the cordon to family and friends, they were told that once they left the red zone there was no going back (in the interim).

Everything they own - the art, books, treasures, clothes, furniture, the things that make a household, EVERYTHING - will go with the house under the wrecker's ball. They have the clothes they were wearing on the day; their cars.  (Although I understand there may have been an adrenalin-fuelled, timed dash for art works, papers, photos and a few, very few, personal effects. But I could be mistaken.)

By comparison, we lost 12 champagne flutes, 12 wine glasses, six tumblers, two high ball glasses, three vases, one jug, two platters, one cake stand, two soup plates, and a standard lamp - give or take.  We dismantled both chimneys after one cracked at the roof-line but did not topple.  (Having bricks and old mortar anywhere above your head is just asking for trouble in this town.)  There are several new dents and hairline cracks about the place - nothing the painters and decorators can't fix.  We are ridiculously lucky.

I don't know how you're meant to watch the demolition gang finish what nature began.  I don't know how you're meant to start again.  But I do know that so many people here in Christchurch (and in Chile, and China, and Japan...) will do just that. They will look around, grieve for what they have lost, give thanks for what they have left, and get on with it.

Photo credits: Hot Wookie, Kete Christchurch: Canterbury Earthquakes 2010 2011


Tattie Weasle said...

So sorry to hear about your in-laws place but so pleased that they are safe; as you say that is the starting point to go on.

Michelle Trusttum said...

Thanks so much, Tattie. And yes, people not things every time. I hope all is well with you. x