Up Front by Emma Hart



by Isabel Hitchings

Long-time PAS commenter Isabel is a resident of the area of Christchurch worst hit by the flooding. I've asked her to share her experiences, and explain what's happened in the area.

We bought our house in 2005, a charming, if slightly run-down, wooden bungalow, a month before my second son was born. The little corner of St Albans it was situated in (which, since last June has been referred to as The Flockton Basin) seemed near to perfect - close to town but not too close, on several handy bus routes, quiet leafy streets. It felt like a safe place to raise our children. And, for almost six years it was exactly that.

The LIM report mentioned a history of flooding but works done in the 1980s to divert Dudley Creek and install a pumping station in Philpotts Road meant that was no longer a concern. I recall remarking with wonder about how much more quickly water drained from our new property than our previous place in Northcote.

When the earthquake of February 22nd struck we were all in the central city and our car was stuck in the Grand Chancellor carpark. It was doubly fortuitous that a friend was able to squeeze us into her car as our street was flooded and impassable. That time the water stopped at the top of the joists beneath the floor.

We moved home a few days later, cleaned and scrubbed and shovelled until our house was a home again. Most of our damage seemed to be cosmetic and, when it took EQC less than a year to complete our repairs, we truly believed we were some of the lucky ones.

That first winter our street flooded severely a couple of times. At first it seemed an interesting novelty to sit in our warm, dry house and watch ducks paddle past the letterbox. We felt lucky (again), and a little guilty, when we discovered some of our neighbours did get water through their houses.

The novelty wore off fast. Surface flooding was a frequent occurrence and there were at least a couple of days each winter that we were simply unable to leave the house and had to miss work and school. On flood days the toilet would bubble ominously and, sometimes, become blocked.

On June 17 2013 we awoke to discover our house had, once more, become an island but, this time, instead of lapping around the steps before receding, the water kept on rising. When the water reached the car's exhaust pipe we called a relative to rescue us in his 4WD but were unable to reach him. When the water started coming through the floorboards we called the council, who told us to call civil defence who told us to dial 111. The fire service told us the water was too deep to get a truck through. They must have changed their minds because, a while later, a fire engine did appear in our street and, after yelling out the window, our family, complete with cat, were driven to safety. That was the only trip they were able to make down our street so some of our neighbours were left in their wet houses. We were out of our house for five weeks and some repairs are yet to be completed.

We are lucky to live in a community of strong, clever and articulate people, Jo Bryne chief among them. Jo has talked to the media, to the council and, to the community frequently since the June floods. At a public meeting Jo organised we were told, by council representatives, that some parts of our area had sunk by up to 500mm, that changed land levels and creeks meant that water drainage had changed radically over a wide area and that remediation, while possible, was a job that would take years due to the scale of the problem.

Since the June floods we have lived at yellow alert. Rain is a constant threat. More than a few drops and we turn the car around in the driveway, positioned for a quick getaway. When puddles form in the carriageway at the end of our drive (the lowest point of the street) we pack clean undies and pyjamas into a getaway bag and start piling belongings onto the dining table.

When it started to rain heavily on Tuesday we were, at least, prepared. My partner left work early to collect our older son from his school, rather than have him bus alone and a friend dropped me and the eight year old home from his (I work there and we usually ride the school bus.) We moved the car and packed a bag and started to clear the floors. At that stage the storm was predicted to be similar to that of June, a one in five year event, so we lifted everything we could to what we believed was a safe level, put our long-suffering cat into her carry cage, and left while there was still a scrap of daylight.

The rain kept going for the best part of another day and many parts of Christchurch experienced severe flooding. When we were able to visit our house this morning the tide line around our weather boards was 16cm above the mark the council made to show the June water levels and we estimate that 18-20cm of water went through our house. Some of our neighbours fared much worse while others stayed dry.

There are no easy answers here. Area wide remediation will be expensive and is not something that can happen in just a few months and raising individual properties will compound problems for their neighbours. Red zoning the area sounds tempting but there were plenty of houses that fared quite well in this week's extreme weather and it wouldn't be fair to force their owners to leave.

It's going to be another long clean up and, for some of us, it all feels like too much. With winter coming and proper remediation years away, even if the council can fast-track it, some people, ourselves included, are finding the thought of moving back to the flood zone hard to bear and the temptation to walk away is strong. That losing the equity on our home would be unpleasant rather than disastrous is yet another way in which we are, in a way, still the lucky ones.

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