‘Plunder’: How the bill for the Canterbury earthquakes was passed on

By Charlie Mitchell and Michael Hayward, The Press, Feb 23 2019

The fund set aside for natural disasters fell short after the Canterbury earthquakes, slowing a painful rebuild and passing the bill on to future taxpayers. 

They hadn't expected it to happen – not when, or where, it did.

Just after 4.30am on a Saturday in September, 2010, in a paddock somewhere near Darfield, a forceful 30-second jolt rippled across the Canterbury Plains towards Christchurch, where windows rattled and chimneys fell. People stumbled out of their homes and didn't go back inside, even when the warm, dawn sunlight cast brilliant shadows across a damaged city.

In Wellington, the news made its way to the agency in charge of handling residential damage claims, which at the time employed 22 people, including two part-time receptionists.

It took a few days for the financial implications to become clear.

There was all this money set aside by generations of Kiwis, that people thought was ready for them when the earthquake struck, but it wasn’t.
— Cam Preston

After a week, the damage was estimated at $2 billion, comprising around 100,000 damage claims, 20 times the size of the largest event the EQC had handled in its recent history.

By the beginning of 2011, the estimated cost had risen to between $5b and $8b. EQC was yet to visit about 60,000 claimants, though its staff had now risen to more than 1000.

Then on February 22, at 12:51pm, a shallow earthquake centred in the Port Hills screamed beneath the damaged city, leading to 185 deaths, felling the central business district and shattering the iconic Christ Church Cathedral. The clock was reset entirely.


Simon Darby