A sharp series of about 20 aftershocks rattled New Zealand’s earthquake-hit city of Christchurch overnight, and earthquake experts warned yesterday that another powerful temblor might hammer the region in coming days.
The weekend’s powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake smashed buildings and homes, wrecked roads and disrupted the central city, though just two people were seriously injured — which authorities attributed to good building codes and the quake’s early-morning timing.
“It was as strong as the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, which caused widespread devastation and is estimated to have killed approximately 230,000 people,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said yesterday. “Although no one lost their life ... families have been traumatized and lost their valued possessions.”
The city center remains cordoned off by troops, with only building owners and workers allowed in to begin clearing up the mess.
More than 100 aftershocks, ranging from magnitude 3.2 to 5.4, have rocked the region since Saturday’s quake.
Overnight, about 20 shocks including two of magnitude 5.4 rattled the city, and quake experts said aftershocks likely will continue for several weeks — and the worst of them may be yet to come.
“It is still possible that we’ll have a magnitude 6 in the next week, and people ought to be aware of that, particularly if they are around structures which are already damaged,” said Ken Gledhill, a monitor at the geological agency GNS Science. “For a shallow earthquake like this, they will go on for weeks.”
Key called off a planned nine-day trip to Britain and France, citing what he called the quake zone’s continuing “instability.”
Key was to have met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and with his wife, Bronagh, to have spent a weekend with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at her Scottish castle, Balmoral.
The New Zealand government has said it plans to pay at least 90 percent of the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to rebuild Christchurch’s water, wastewater and road infrastructure.
In a statement parliament, Key pledged to remove bottlenecks to reconstruction and said the government “is prepared to step up financially to rebuild the region.”
He planned to return to the damaged city later yesterday to meet victims displaced by the quake and for talks with local officials.
“As the frightening aftershocks continue, we stand alongside them [people of the region], committed to helping them rebuild their lives,” he said.