17 Jul 2020

Christchurch gas explosion: 'Grossly unjust' for WorkSafe to not follow up sooner, neighbours say

9:20 am on 17 July 2020

It took WorkSafe nearly 11 months to make any contact with some Christchurch residents neighbouring a home destroyed in a gas explosion last July.

Faye and John McGill were among 50 residents who had to be evacuated after a gas explosion at a residential property at Marble Court, Christchurch.

Faye and John McGill were among 50 residents who had to be evacuated after a gas explosion at a residential property in 2019 at Marble Court, Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

The blast instantly obliterated the Marble Court property in Northwood one morning, injuring six people and propelling debris into dozens of homes up to 100m away.

Yesterday, WorkSafe announced it was charging two people under the Gas Act, in a development celebrated by neighbours.

But they say months of not knowing if they would ever have answers had taken its toll.

The home has now been completely rebuilt and at a glance, Marble Court is almost a street like any other - with no more rubble or dents, and no signs that a year ago a house burst into matchsticks.

Just the odd reminder remains for residents, including glass shards in the lemon tree and a showerhead unearthed in the garden.

Faye and John McGill still clearly recall the instant their doors and windows were sucked out, the roof buckled under the weight of debris and a massive cloud rose from wreckage a few doors down.

They were among 50 residents who had to be evacuated, and sustained about $100,000 of damage to their home.

The past year has been full of challenges - but they said the biggest and most "totally frustrating" was the lack of follow-up from agencies that pledged to find out what happened.

The aftermath of the explosion at Marble Court.

The aftermath of the explosion at Marble Court last year. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

John said it was the "feeling of a no-win situation".

"It was almost ... as though if we don't approach the subject, it might go away," Faye said.

Emergency services took down the McGills' names and address in the days after the explosion, promising to keep them in the loop as WorkSafe launched an investigation.

But the McGills heard nothing from anyone until just over three weeks ago, on 20 June, when a letter arrived from WorkSafe asking them to describe how the blast had affected them.

The couple were aware a gasfitter had come forward to police, yet had no idea if the investigation was still underway or if criminal charges were a possibility.

That is despite WorkSafe telling RNZ this week it had had "ongoing contact" with people immediately impacted.

One street away, Anne Stewart and her husband had to move out of their house for seven months while it was almost completely rebuilt.

They too, until very recently, had not had any ongoing contact with WorkSafe.

"And we did do a letter in reply to that, as to how it affected us," Stewart said.

The scene of a gas explosion that destroyed a Christchurch property.

The scene of the gas explosion that destroyed properties at Marble Court. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

The McGills say it was "grossly unjust" of WorkSafe to keep them in the dark for so long.

"In course of fairness to the neighbours, the surrounding neighbours - you don't have to put blame on anybody, but just to give us some indication that things are moving along, and we will be doing this, that and the other," Faye said.

The McGills said they wanted someone to be held accountable and were relieved charges were being laid.

However, John said it would have helped if they had known more about what was happening with the investigation.

"We had to pay the excess, which was $600. Why should we have to cough on that? It's not our fault, nothing to do with us," he said.

"We lived through it, through the turmoil of it all, throughout the repairs and that was extremely, extremely stressful. From a health point of view it's affected us - it's made us very, very edgy."

The two people charged by WorkSafe will appear in Christchurch District Court next month.

WorkSafe said it was still interested in speaking to anyone affected by the explosion who it had not already contacted.

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