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Christchurch, NZ Suffers Another Round Of Quakes

June 13, 2011

A series of powerful aftershocks rocked the already quake-battered New Zealand city of Christchurch Monday, destroying one of the few remaining buildings downtown and throwing thousands of residents into darkness.

The aftershocks come almost four months after a 6.3 magnitude temblor struck the city on February 22, and a 7.1 quake that struck in September of last year. That quake left the city in near ruin and killed as many as 181 people.

Luckily, in Monday’s madness, there were no reported fatalities. New Zealand’s Defense said 10 people suffered minor injuries from the series of quakes, with the strongest recorded at magnitude 6.0 at 2:20 pm (10:20 pm ET on Sunday).

The city’s center, which has been barricaded ever since the February earthquake, received even more damage. About 200 workers were in the area when the aftershocks struck Monday, and two were briefly trapped in a church. Reports of more than 40 people there had been taken to hospitals with minor injuries, according to the city council.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told New Zealand National Radio that “we are being enveloped in dust…it is very, very scary.”

People fled buildings in panic as a magnitude 5.2 tremor struck during lunchtime. Then, just over an hour later, a 6.0 tremor hit, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). Dozens of smaller quakes were also recorded.

“All the shops have fallen down,” said Renee Murray, who works at a Domino’s Pizza in a suburb. “Half of the roof has fallen in (but) they have not fully collapsed.”

Thousands of aftershocks have rattled the area since the February 22 quake. The February tremor and its aftershocks have been very shallow, which along with proximity to the city, have made the temblors very destructive. The USGS said all of Monday’s temblors were six miles deep.

Nearly 47,000 homes were left without power Monday night, when temperatures were expected to drop to near freezing conditions.

Monday’s quakes also caused some liquefaction, in which silt bubbles up from the Earth. After the February quake, 300,000 tons of silt had to be scraped away, and the silt alone made thousands of homes uninhabitable.

Roger Sutton, CEO of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, said the extra damage to the city center means some buildings that were salvageable “are now seriously damaged and will have to be brought down,” reports ABC News

Sutton said the group’s manager was driving when the 6.0 temblor hit, and was literally dodging falling debris. “He’s very lucky to be alive,” he added.

The series of aftershocks have been “a setback for Christchurch and its people, but it does not lessen our resolve to rebuild,” Prime Minister John Key told Reuters. “The people of Christchurch should know all New Zealanders are thinking of them and will continue to support and stand by them in this very difficult time.”

New Zealand’s earthquake monitoring service, GNS Science, said Monday’s aftershocks were within a forecasted range but are likely to trigger more aftershocks themselves.

“We would expect a number of aftershocks in the magnitude 4.0 to 5.0 range on the coming days and weeks,” said Kelvin Berryman, GNS’s Manager of Natural Hazards Research.

Besides damage to the city itself, the quakes also knocked the New Zealand dollar lower and was seen as another hurdle to rebuild New Zealand’s second largest city, likely encouraging the Reserve Bank of New Zealand to keep interest rates on hold for longer.

The cost to rebuild the city has been estimated at around $12.2 billion US ($15 billion NZ).

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand cut rates after the February tremor to a record low of 2.5 percent. But signs of recovery and an upbeat assessment from the bank at its review last week have led markets to price in rate rises from December.

Markets are expected to ease back on expectations of a rate hike, said Tim Kelleher, CBA’s VP of institutional banking and markets. “It puts things like the rebuild of Christchurch further on delay,” he said.

Image Caption: ChristChurch Cathedral showing the effects of the February 2011 earthquake. Credit: Gabriel/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)  

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