New Zealand quake: Christchurch faces year to recover

Sunday, September 5, 2010

WELLINGTON - Shops and offices in the centre of Christchurch will be closed through Monday after engineers ruled it too dangerous to allow people back into the area following a 7.1-magnitude quake.

Teams of engineers inspected about 90 damaged buildings in the central business district. City officials said a police cordon around several blocks would be maintained for another night and workers should stay at home Monday.

Officials closed off unsafe buildings in the centre, where about 8,000 apartment dwellers were the only people allowed to come and go.

Prime Minister John Key said it would take at least a year to rebuild the centre of the South Island’s largest city, gateway to the country for hundreds of thousands of international tourists annually.

A state of emergency was in place and authorities said all schools in the affected region would be closed at least until Wednesday while their safety was checked.

All city buses remained off the roads because of deep crevasses caused by the quake and some rail services were unable to resume because of damaged tracks.

The only death in Saturday’s pre-dawn quake, the most damaging to hit a New Zealand city since 1931, was a heart attack victim. Two people seriously injured by falling debris were still in hospital.

Civil Defence Minister John Carter said the quake had damaged stopbanks protecting low-lying residential areas from the Waimakariri River, which was likely to rise from heavy rain in the Southern Alps.

He said residents may have to be evacuated to join others in temporary welfare centres because their houses were wrecked.

Civil defence officials estimated that more than 500 commercial buildings in and around the city were damaged by the quake and up to 20 percent of houses were uninhabitable.

Christchurch Hospital received a stream of people with minor injuries incurred when trying to repair their houses. One man fell off when an aftershock hit, a spokeswoman said.

City Mayor Bob Parker said power had been restored to about 95 percent of users, but water supply was interrupted by at least 200 reported fractures of underground pipes.

Authorities feared a health crisis in a city where the H1N1 swine flu virus was reported to be rampant, and warned people to boil all drinking water because of contamination by burst sewage pipes.

Scores of substantial aftershocks battered the region overnight and Sunday, the largest registering 5.1 on the Richter scale.

The state Earthquake Commission estimated it would receive 100,000 applications for compensation from victims in the city and the surrounding Canterbury province, where a number of small rural towns were badly damaged.

The prime minister estimated damage at more than 2 billion New Zealand dollars ($1.4 billion). He said Monday’s cabinet meeting would consider a priority list for infrastructure repairs.

Army units were on standby and the state of emergency was likely to remain in place for several days in the city of nearly 400,000 people.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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