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Christchurch still trying to recover from 2011 earthquake -

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EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Five years after a devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch, the region has been rocked by a series of quakes and aftershocks this week which are continuing to terrify local residents.

Today a magnitude six quake struck off the country's South Island.

It follows a 5.7 magnitude quake which hit closer to the city on Sunday. That one caused several buildings to be evacuated. Objects fell off shelves. Cliffs collapsed in several places along the surrounding coast. Thankfully, there were no injuries.

At least 130 aftershocks have been felt since the weekend and it has the people of Christchurch on edge.

Next Monday is the fifth anniversary of the quake that killed 185 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

In recent years, Christchurch has been trying hard to get back on its feet. That recovery has been hampered, in part, by the time it's taking to settle insurance claims.

Hamish Fitzsimmons travelled to the city, just before these latest quakes.

(Aerial footage of damaged and destroyed buildings and rubble, Christchurch)

BOB PARKER (SIR), MAYOR 2007-2013: One day in 25 seconds. Twenty-five seconds! That's all it was. I mean, 25 seconds earlier you had a complete city. Twenty-five seconds later, you were in the middle of a war zone.

(Footage of Christchurch immediately following 2011 earthquake. Citizens run through streets as buildings around them crumble)

LIANNE DALZIEL, CHRISTCHURCH MAYOR: What we are doing here is laying the foundation for something that's going to be pretty special.

(Aerial footage of message written in chalk: 'IAG has continued to take my money and has left me to rot in a broken house!')

SARAH MILES, INSURANCE JUSTICE CAMPAIGNER: Mercenary: that's the only word I can use for it.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS, REPORTER: Christchurch looks more like a big building site these days.

(To Antony Gough) G'day Antony. Good to see you.

ANTONY GOUGH, DEVELOPER: Wonderful. Great to see you.


ANTONY GOUGH: Welcome to The Terrace.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Antony Gough's enthusiasm is as bright as his suits. His is one of the biggest private developments in town. He sees opportunity where others see ruin.

ANTONY GOUGH: It's like a clean slate. You know, we've got a city that exists around us and the centre city that got hit and bombed out, almost, like in the sort of Second World War.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Is it fair enough to ask why things have taken so long? I mean, it's five years on now and most of the city is still either in... there's rubble around, there are condemned, broken buildings or there are just gravel parking lots where buildings used to be?

ANTONY GOUGH: There's an awful lot of building going on as well around us, as you would have seen. The retail precinct here, the building behind me here: that was moved into yesterday by 500 government workers. These buildings that I'm looking at here of mine: we'll have them open October this year.

The building over here: that will be open in November this year. There's other buildings beyond that that are actually going to also be open by the end of the year. So there's a lot happening in Christchurch.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: After five years, just three out of 20 major projects that were designed to stimulate the Christchurch economy have been delivered: a cricket oval, a bus station and this children's playground.

JOHN OMBLER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CANTERBURY EARTHQUAKE RECOVERY AUTHORITY: Five years ago, we might have thought we'd be further advanced than we were - than we are now, rather. But having said that: it was a really complicated series of earthquakes in 2011 and it took a long time for adequate certainty to really start making some progress.

With that background: yes, I'm happy with where we are.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Insurance wrangling has been one of the main roadblocks in getting Christchurch moving again. The city council has just settled its own claim.

LIANNE DALZIEL: I think that we ended last year on a bit of a high note. We got our insurance settled as a city, which has certainly made life a little bit easier for us in terms of planning. And there's a lot going on, you know, as you can see. There are cranes everywhere. Things are really coming out of the ground now and people are starting to feel a lot more confident about where things are going to be in the next five years.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Things are very different outside the CBD, where entire neighbourhoods have been demolished. They're the 'red zones', where it's considered too dangerous to rebuild due to land damage.

(Hamish Fitzsimmons knocks on door of Pip Coory's house. She answers)

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Hi, Pip. How are you going?


HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Nice to see you.

PIP COORY: Come on in.


So this is some of the damage to your house?

PIP COORY: I don't (laughs) normally live like this. I've been living in a caravan for a year and a half and so this stuff's really just been sitting here, packed up. As you can see, this is what IAG called "discovery work": so builders came in and, you know, just ripped the boards off everything, looking for the structural breaks. And you know, a lot of water has also poured down here on February the 22nd.

I'm still paying my mortgage. I'm still paying my rates. I'm still paying insurances. They've taken about $26,000 off me since the earthquake and I've obviously had nothing, you know, back - apart from the $20,000 which I put into a caravan. So I've been living out of the house.

(Pip Coory shows Hamish Fitzsimmons a large calendar chart, hand-written directly on interior wall)

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: So you've been documenting the last five-and-a-bit years here?

PIP COORY: Yeah. Look, I decided to... I mean, the wall's coming down anyway and I just decided: "What the hell." I didn't have a big enough piece of paper. (Laughs)

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: How would you describe your treatment by EQC?

PIP COORY (reads from chart): "Bullied. Cornered. Told the property would never be fixed." Oh, I mean, my God, it's been hell. It really has been. These guys have just acted in such an unprofessional manner. It's been really, really challenging. You know, this stuff about: "but don't worry, they'll make me a really good offer." You know?

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: What was that offer?

PIP COORY: The offer was originally $30,000. It arrived in my bank account without any notification. And then they turned around and offered an $80,000 amount and that also went to my bank manager without notification. And I had them send those figures back twice.

IAN SIMPSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, EQC: The first thing that you have to bear in mind is that we aren't just firing cheques at people. So we're not just settling claims by firing money at somebody and then leaving them to themselves to try and find a way to get their house repaired.

We're running a repair program. The whole aim of that program was to make sure that everyone, irrespective of their, you know, financial resources, could get access to a good quality repair.

RENEE WALKER, IAG: We work with our customers. It's always a negotiation, so they'll be presented with a cash settlement offer and then is a negotiation. We're not in the practice of forcing cash settlement. So there is always a conversation.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Lateline has spoken to a former employee of a contractor who did repairs for the EQC and insurer IAG. She says people were bullied into accepting claims when they were vulnerable.

'LISA', FORMER CONTRACTOR EMPLOYEE: They're ending up worse off than what they were in the beginning. And all they wanted was to have it back to how it was. Simply, yeah, cutting costs to save dollars at the end of the day. And definitely not taking people's thoughts and wellbeing or anything like that into consideration.

It was like they weren't even... they're not dealing with a human: they're just dealing with a numbers game.

SARAH MILES, INSURANCE JUSTICE CAMPAIGNER: We're talking about tens of thousands of people who've battled to get, well, what they should be entitled to under their policy - and bearing in mind that most people don't have the, you know, spare cash to use in order to fight their claims.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS (to 'Lisa'): How did they bully people into accepting less than what they were entitled to?

'LISA': It was simply: "Sign it or we don't do it." It's as simple as that. So if you are at the end of your tether and you've been dealing with it for three, four years - two years, even - or you're elderly or you're unwell since it, people just took it. So there was no negotiations.

SARAH MILES: Mercenary: that's the only word I can use for it. You know, claims practices that are less than ethical. EQC, which is a government agency, which should have been here to protect the people: and because they're strapped for cash, they've been just as bad as the private insurance industry. They have put the population of Canterbury under severe pressure.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Satish Naryan and his family lived in their broken house for four years until their claim got moving.

SATISH NARAYAN, INSURANCE CLAIMANT: It's been a very long battle. We signed our building contract in December 2014 and it has taken this long to come to this stage we are in right now.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Are you happy with what's in that contract; the scope of it?

SATISH NARAYAN: No, they are absolutely not- I'm not happy at all. Even the design right now: what we are able to achieve to get the design, to get to what I really have: I'm still not happy because they have reduced the dimension of two rooms.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: So the insurance company's forced the contractor to change the design of the house?

SATISH NARAYAN: Yes. They kept changing the design and they kept... did not give us any drawings for us, for me to understand what I'm- whether I'm getting, really, what I deserve to get.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: So how would you describe the behaviour of the insurance companies?

SATISH NARAYAN: Bullying: absolute bullying.

(Hamish approaches the extensively damaged Englefield Lodge, Christchurch)

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS (to Shaun Wylie): Hi, Shaun. How are you going?

SHAUN WYLIE, INSURANCE CLAIMANT: Hi, Hamish. Good. Nice to meet you. Welcome...

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: So this is the place?

SHAUN WYLIE: Welcome to Englefield Lodge.


SHAUN WYLIE: Come on in.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: This is one of the formerly grand rooms of the house?

SHAUN WYLIE: Yeah, probably the most grand room. Four metre ceiling, yeah. Dining room.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: So what were your plans for the place?

SHAUN WYLIE: We were going to renovate it and turn it back into a family home.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: And what happened?

SHAUN WYLIE: The earthquakes. The first one: February. The September quake wasn't as bad: cosmetic damage. February came along and nailed the house completely. Everything. Brick fell off.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: And what's been your experience with trying to get some of the money back to rebuild it or repair it?

SHAUN WYLIE: We didn't have any problems with EQC: they were very quick 'cause the house was obviously damaged above the cap. But the insurance company turned into a five-year battle. It cost us $100,000 in legal and quantity surveying fees. And the insurance company did not come up to the price we'd had to rebuild the house.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: What has it cost you personally?

SHAUN WYLIE: It's cost my marriage. It's cost five years of my life, constant stress. You can't put a number on those things. You can't get them back.

SARAH MILES: The emotional impact of this event has been massive. And it's not just about an earthquake now. You know, we're five years on: this is about an abuse by insurance corporates on a population - a vulnerable population.

RENEE WALKER: We think and we maintain that we are settling our claims at a reasonable rate. And we would like to work with our clients to make sure that we get an outcome that's fair for both parties.

BOB PARKER: Even though this is slower in some ways than we would want, the quality of what is happening in terms of the construction of the buildings is absolutely stunning.

It's worth waiting for. The future is worth waiting for.