Christchurch Quake: Day 8

Rescue and recovery work continues in earnest. Christchurch CBD still cordoned-off.

Tuesday 1st March 2011

Nearly a week after a deadly and destructive earthquake struck New Zealand’s second-largest city, Christchurch is still effectively paralysed as rescue teams continue their work at various sites and residents begin to take stock of their situation.

The earthquake wreaked havoc amonst essential services, disrupting electricity, water and sewerage networks, and seriously damaged roading infrastructure. Many buildings collapsed in the city centre.

Electricity has been retsored to 85% of the city. A temporary overhead 66 kV line has been constructed from Bromley to Brighton in three days, a process which would normally take 6-7 weeks, to replace four seriously damaged underground cables. A further 3 days’ work remains to install a transformer and connect the new line into the local grid. When complete, the new line will boost capacity and allow eastern areas still without power to be supplied.

Water has been restored to 66% of Christchurch, allowing those residents with running water to use toilets if there is no obvious leakage from or damage to drains. The city’s rivers are contaminated by waste water, and some effluent is flowing into Pegasus Bay putting nearby beaches off-limits to all activity.

A small number of gastroenteric infections have been reported. All cases have been put down to patients failing to use boiled water to wash their teeth. All drinking water must be boiled before use.

The Central Business District is still closed to all but essential services as the search for buried victims and the recovery of bodies occurs at several sites. Work on stabilising the leaning Grand Chancellor Hotel tower, a 26 storey building, has commenced. The danger of the building toppling has seriously delayed the checking of buildings in the immediate vicinity as a collapse would generate a significant local earthquake which may cause nearby weakened structures to collapse.

The death toll stands at 154 with more than 50 people unaccounted for.

A curfew extends across the CBD in an area bounded by the four avencues (Deans. Moorhouse, Fitzgerald and Bealey) during nighttime hours and tight restrictions apply at all times to the inner part of the CBD where emergency and rescue workers are still busy.

Volunteers from councils throughout the country began arriving yesterday, boosting the number of inspectors available to assess the safety of residential properties and land.

Aftershocks are continuing, the largest so far today was a magnitude 4.3 event at 9:10 a.m. that was only 2 km deep. The aftershocks related to the magnitude 6.3 earthquake have started spreading out from the immediate vicinity of the epicentre as expected. The Ministry of Civil Defence warns that GNS Science advises that there may be more magnitude 5 aftershocks in the next few days. Between four and sixteen aftershocks of magnitude 4 or greater are expected from this particular earthquake. [MCDEM update #70] To date there have been 44 such events.

Christchurch is a significant centre for science, education, manufacturing, tourism, and the arts, and services a large rural hinterland. While the focus is still on rescue and recovery, thought has already turned to how it should be rebuilt. It is thought that the commercial activity will be relocated from the existing CBD in the interim, allowing essential investigation and demolition work to continue at little risk to the public. Of the thousand buildings in the CBD that have been checked, only 600 are thought to be fit for use, with more than 200 likely to face demolition.

The emergency in Christchurch has ramifications for New Zealand as its second-largest city remains paralysed. The country will pause for two minutes of silence today to mark the moment the earthquake occurred one week ago. At 12:51 p.m. (11:51 p.m. Monday GMT) people will pause for two minutes’ reflection and solidarity with the residents and emergency workers of Christchurch.

We’re all in this together.

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