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Kaiapoi: The mending of a broken town

The town of Kaiapoi has had its share of knocks but the Christchurch earthquake in 2010 left a large part of it in ruins. The damage shocked the nation. Then what happened? A decade after disaster, Frank Film returns to Kaiapoi.

It was the first Canterbury earthquake that fair walloped Kaiapoi. On Saturday September 4, 2010, New Zealanders woke to incredible images of upended and broken homes and distraught residents.

A decade after disaster, it’s hard to argue with community advocate Chris Greengrass when she says Kaiapoi “keeps bouncing back better and better”.

As with many small towns in New Zealand, there are empty shops for lease in Kaiapoi’s main street but there is also a real sense of purpose and vibrancy in the North Canterbury settlement, 20 minutes north of Christchurch.

When Frank Film’s Changing South crew visit, the town’s cafes are busy, families are strolling the river walkway and there’s a constant stream of traffic through the town centre.

This is not the first time Kaiapoi has had to stare down adversity.

Over a 20-year period it’s faced the closure of its famed woolen mills and its freezing works - the town’s biggest employer. Both closures came after the construction of the northern motorway, which took State Highway One away from Kaiapoi’s main street.

Then, in the early hours of September 4, 2010, Kaiapoi’s worst disaster, ever.

In a terrifying 40-second ordeal, one-fifth of the town’s housing stock was destroyed and one-third severely damaged, in what would be the first in a series of devastating earthquakes to hit Canterbury.

As day broke, images of up-ended homes and incredible stories of survival would shock the nation. Disbelief at the scale of the devastation matched only by amazement at no loss of life.

Many residents found themselves homeless and essential services were lost to much of the town.

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