Christchurch Quake: Rescue and Evacuation

Rescue work continued overnight. Airport open for domestic flights. Organised evacuation has commenced.

Wednesday 23rd February 2011

Rescue work following yesterday’s magnitude 6.3 earthquake near Christchurch has continued overnight. Urban Search and Rescue freed 32 trapped people from The Press building in Cathedral Square and the Canterbury Television and Pyne Gould Guinness buildings during nighttime hours. Some of the rescued showed hardly a scratch, while others required amputations to free them. An unspecified number of bodies were also removed from the buildings.

USAR teams from the North Island and New South Wales have arrived bolstering the number of experienced searchers to 150 and allowing other rescue sites to be assessed. Teams from Queensland, Singapore, the United States, Taiwan and Japan are expected to arrive with specialist equipment increasing search and rescue numbers to about 700 today, according to Christchurch Mayor, Bob Parker.

The Accident and Emergency department of Christchurch Hospital saw a steady stream of 200 seriously injured patients overnight. Many had sustained crush injuries or amputations caused by earthquake incidents or rescue efforts. Where necessary, patients have been admitted to hospital for stabilisation, but some have died.

There have been 39 confirmed fatalities, according to Civil Defence. Other bodies have been found in cars and buildings but have not been through the victim identification process, bringing the number of known deaths to 65. A mortuary has been established at the Christchurch Central Police Station, but is likely to be moved to the Burnham Army Camp later today, according to police.

Infrastructure at Christchurch International Airport has come through the earthquake without serious damage. The control tower, navigational aids, fuel systems and terminal buildings are largely undamaged. Both the domestic and international terminals have sustained cosmetic damage with ceiling panels out and glass broken, but are serviceable. The airport was busy with military traffic overnight and reopened for domestic commercial flights this morning. International flights may resume later today, but a decision will not be made until later this morning.

Roads were busy last night as some residents, fed-up with the resumption of stronger earthquake activity after months of continual aftershocks, chose to leave the city. The RNZAF is operating evacuation flights to Wellington and Auckland for domestic and foreign tourists who wish to leave the city. Air New Zealand has offered five $50 flights to or from Auckland and Wellington today for locals who wish to take a break outside the earthquake zone. It has also offered $50 fares to and from Christchurch to anywhere on the domestic network until 8 a.m. Friday.

Mobile telephone networks are still operating. Eight Vodafone towers have been toppled but the network is operating. Telecom reports that it has 100 towers across the region and has lost only two. However, electricity supply is a major concern with many cell sites running on batteries or generators.

Interestingly, while it also leaves network capacity free for emergency work, there is a technical reason for mobile operators asking customers to send text messages instead of making calls to mobiles in the Christchurch area. Transmission of text traffic to and from handsets places a lower load on the batteries of cellular sites, increasing the amount of time they will continue to operate before needing electricity from an external source.

Residents of the city have been making use of technology to get messages out to friends and family who are then using their networks of friends to pass on news that they are safe. Messages have been arriving by text and email recounting harrowing experiences of yesterday’s earthquake and the state of houses and offices. Their focus is on nearby friends who need to secure damaged houses and a co-operative spirit is obvious. With no water supply, many are living in damaged and soiled houses with no means to do more than a cursory clean and tidy-up. Water has to be conserved for drinking and not used on cleaning at this stage.

Water will be tankered in for distribution from six primary schools in the city early this afternoon.

One friend emailed. “Our lives are on hold. We can clean up the mess in our own places, and try to contact and help any friends or others who need help.” He helped a friend in a reasonably modern townhouse nearby who was in desperate plight. “… a lot of damage – severe cracking at the first floor level inside and out, plus smashed front door and broken windows. It doesn’t look good, and quite possibly not safe, so I helped her get important stuff out of her house and into her garage, but I’m not particularly fussed about going back into her house again.”

One Response to “Christchurch Quake: Rescue and Evacuation”

  1. Lizzie from Gizzie says:

    What an absolute disaster! All Kiwis will be feeling this and our hearts go out to Christchurch’s people.

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