7 Mar 2014

EQC to fix floor levels in some cases

10:00 pm on 7 March 2014

The Earthquake Commission says it will pay to lift the foundations in some earthquake-damaged homes in Christchurch - but only when the foundations have been damaged.

Thousands of homes in the South Island city have sunk as a result of recent quakes, but not all have had their floors raised to pre-quake levels.

Businesses in Hills Road, Mairehau, were water damaged.

Businesses in Hills Road, Mairehau, were water damaged. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Some homeowners are complaining that EQC and other insurers are not paying to lift floor levels.

The EQC said on Friday it will pay to raise floors if the foundations of the house have to be repaired or replaced, but won't do so if the foundations don't need to be touched. The Insurance Council says lifting floor levels is only one way of reducing the risk of flooding.

A Christchurch surveyor says insurers are avoiding paying out to raise floor levels in homes that sank in the Canterbury earthquakes and are now prone to flooding.

Adrian Cowie told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Friday that EQC and private insurers have been unwilling to pay. He said people need to check the wording of their policy, and if it says "as new" it must be assessed as new. "If the house has sunk, that has to be lifted."

The Christchurch City Council is considering a change that would require new homes to be build to higher floor levels. It has also announced it is working to fast-track flood management plans for areas hardest hit in this week's storm, putting a timeframe of 18 months to two years for a permanent solution to be put in place.

Residents vow to leave

Residents in the area worst hit by this week's floods say two years is too long to wait for flood protection work.

About 50 homes in the Flockton basin area of Mairehau/St Albans were flooded on Wednesday. Some of those homeowners say they're leaving and never returning - even though they don't know if they'll ever be able to sell their properties

Jo Byrne's Carrick Street property has been through a lot in the past few years. The land was damaged in the earthquakes and the house has repeatedly flooded since then.

Ms Byrne said Wednesday's flood was the last straw and she's leaving with her family and never coming back. She says she knows of several other residents on her street who are doing the same.

Ms Byrne is staying with in-laws while trying to sort out insurance claims in order to get enough money to buy another house.

Another resident, Adam Smith, said earthquakes left the area sitting much lower than the rest of the city and his street has flooded every year for the past three years. "My understanding is that we dropped 40 centimetres in the February quakes - that was a long time ago."

He said this week's flooding was completely predictable and while a solution takes time, the council has already had three years to do something.

Diane Shannon, who has lived in her Mairehau home for 23 years, knows of two households who are moving from the street and after three years of floods she too is considering moving to higher ground.

Two rooms in her house were flooded this week and because her insurance policy changed after the earthquakes - and the excess went up from $200 to $10,000 - she will have to pick up the cost of replacing the carpet herself.

Bryce McCutcheon had just moved his furniture into his garage so earthquake repairs could be carried out when the floods immersed his prized possessions in 30 centimetres of water.

A resident of Mairehau for 40 years, Mr McCutcheon said the council had previously stated nothing could be done to prevent flooding in the area - and he doubts their commitment to finding a solution. "I'll believe it when I see it," he said.

Options to go to council

The council is working on short-term and long-term solutions to the problem faced by residents in the Flockton Basin.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme officials are looking to see if there are any properties especially susceptible to flooding. While she can't promise long-term solutions will be found soon, there were many options, such as assisting people to lift their houses.

Land drainage operations manager Mike Gillooly said short term options such as pumping water away and diverting floodwaters elsewhere have their limitations.

Mr Gillooly said while these steps would have helped with the flooding in 2012 and 2013, nothing would have saved homes from this week's inundation. Longer term options that could be delivered within two years include building a pumping station at the lowest point of the basin to remove floodwaters or widening the streams flowing through the area.

Both options, along with costings, will be presented to the full council for a final decision in two weeks, he said.

Canterbury University geography researcher Deirdre Hart said the council faces complex issues, including the fact the city is built on a low-lying coastal plain. She said storm-water drainage systems were badly damaged in the earthquakes, which meant this week's heavy rain resulted in severe flooding.

Meanwhile, Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said anyone living in a flood-prone area faces higher premiums, though flood mitigation will lower those costs.