Christchurch counts the cost of quakes as violent tremors continue

08:12, June 15, 2011      

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Thousands of people in quake devastated Christchurch, New Zealand's second city, face the loss of their homes, Prime Minister John Key said Tuesday, a day after a series of violent tremors rocked the city again.

At least one person an 88-year-old man died after Monday' s quakes. He fell during the strongest 6.3 shock Monday and died in a rest home Tuesday, but police said the man had other health issues and his death might not be directly caused by the tremors.

Police and other emergency services were going door-to-door in parts of the city Tuesday to check on residents, many of them facing another night in near-freezing conditions with no electricity.

"We've been checking on the well being of residents, helping people remove silt or belongings and undertaking traffic patrols to ensure people are as safe as possible," said Superintendent Dave Cliff, Canterbury Police District Commander.

"It's another cold night in the city and we encourage people to continue to look after one another, and seek help if you need it."

Several roads and bridges remained closed, and liquefaction, boulders and holes were present on many streets, he said.


Sizable aftershocks continued to shake Christchurch Tuesday with an earthquake of magnitude 4.8 shaking the Canterbury region at 4.16 p.m.. It was centered 40 km northwest of the town of Methven at a depth of 5 km, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

The city council and health authorities were still advising residents Tuesday to boil or treat all water from taps and tankers before drinking as checks of the city's water supplies continued.

Residents were also being advised to keep warm and to avoid contamination from broken sewer pipes.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said most Christchurch schools escaped damage and should be able to reopen in the next two days, but six or seven schools had been hit hard.

"There are a number of our eastern suburb schools that have significant liquefaction, in fact more liquefaction issues than we had even in the February quake," she said, referring to the Feb. 22 quake that killed at least 181 people.


Properties at risk from rockfalls or landslips were having assessment notices issued, Mayor Bob Parker said Tuesday.

"This will be terribly traumatic for those residents involved," he said. "However, what we must remember is that this is necessary to ensure the safety of everyone."

Key said thousands of people would have to abandon their quake- destroyed homes, but he refused to identify specific areas or a timeframe.

Key arrived in Christchurch Tuesday to meet Parker, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority chief Roger Sutton to assess the situation.

The government had a "reasonably clear picture" about the areas of land that would not be rebuilt on, but it was "extremely important to get it right," Key told reporters.

"Although the footprint of damage is very similar to the February earthquake, there has been further damage to land in some areas ... and further subsidence."

Key said he understood homeowners' frustration and wanted to be able to "communicate with homeowners to give clarity -- it is not only the land but what happens next."

He asked that owners be patient as officials worked to provide clarity and simplicity to the financial payments, as there were large numbers of individual insurance contracts to take into account.

He said they did not want to rush the process and jeopardize a proper outcome.

New Zealand was fortunate to have high levels of insurance and re-insurance, giving "a high level of security for homeowners," said Key.

Although Monday's quake had a "big impact on morale and there was some economic impact," for the most part it hit already damaged areas, so the business community was largely unaffected.

Brownlee said at least 75 buildings in the central business district that survived the Feb. 22 quake needed to be demolished urgently after Monday's quakes, the strongest of which measured 6. 3 on the Richter scale.


Monday's quakes would not hinder rebuilding the city, Finance Minister Bill English told Parliament Tuesday.

"While there may be some hold-ups in the next week or two as the damage is reassessed, the fact is that what is required to rebuild Christchurch hasn't changed," he said.

"The demolition and rebuilding of the CBD and significant decisions about land use in the suburbs as well as repairs to thousands of houses -- much of that effort and the planning that goes with it can continue regardless of the earthquakes yesterday. "

English said it was too soon to say whether the government's rebuilding costs would increase.

"That's not entirely clear yet, the picture seems to be that there has been more damage in the CBD where extensive demolition was already occurring and pretty severe liquefaction in the eastern suburbs where there is already significant damage," he said.


Earlier Tuesday, scientists at the government-run GeoNet monitoring center upgraded the strength of the worst two tremors and said the epicenters were much closer to the surface of the ground than previously thought.

The quake that struck at 2:20 p.m. Monday was raised from 6 to 6.3 on the Richter scale and was only 6 km below the surface, not 9 km as estimated Monday.

The 1 p.m. tremor was upgraded from 5.5 to 5.7 on the Richter scale and was at a depth of 10 km, rather the 11 km announced Monday.

The new measurement puts the 2.20 p.m. quake on a par with the Feb. 22 quake.

However, the city escaped the damage caused by the February quake because Monday's aftershock at 10 km southeast of the city was centered further away, seismologist Martin Reyners told the New Zealand Herald.

"We've had strong ground movement recorded from it. The thing is it was south of the February event by 3 or 4 km," Reyners was quoted as saying.

Health authorities said up to 60 people were treated in Christchurch Hospital's emergency department in the five hours after the first quake, and 16 of them were admitted.

Four people were admitted with moderate to serious injuries, and two people were still in hospital Tuesday, both of them described as stable.

Three people were treated for hypothermia overnight as temperatures plummeted to around freezing and thousands of homes remained without electricity.

Source: Xinhua
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