Aftershocks continued to rattle the earthquake-shattered New Zealand city of Christchurch yesterday, overshadowing Christmas preparations for weary residents in a “hellish year.”
The unrelenting series of tremors, several stronger than magnitude 5, had the city on edge again 10 months after a devastating quake claimed 181 lives and destroyed much of the inner city.
Emergency services were rushing to restore electricity and water supplies and an army of 2,000 volunteers were helping to clean up the worst affected suburbs by Christmas Day.
“There is a real determination in our city not to let the events of the past 24 hours ruin Christmas. Our crews have worked overnight and will be working all today to restore services to the city,” Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said.
“Our goal is that by the end of the day we will have made the necessary emergency repairs to our water, wastewater and roads,” he added.
“It has been a hellish year. I am determined to get as much as we can fixed by tonight so that our staff, apart from a skeleton team, can spend Christmas with their families,” Parker said.
The latest flurry of earthquakes began at 1:58pm on Friday, sending Christmas shoppers fleeing from stores in panic as stock fell from shelves and forcing the closure of the international airport as a precaution.
Over the following 24 hours, there were 39 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or stronger, including four over magnitude 5.
At least three houses that had been in a precarious state following powerful shakes earlier in the year collapsed and one large shopping mall was unable to open on Christmas Eve, one of the most lucrative days of the year.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key toured the city yesterday and said he did not believe the latest quakes would have a dramatic impact on the already significant repair bill.
“What we can conclude is that the most significant damage from the earthquakes is really the psychological damage and the impact on the confidence of the people of the Christchurch,” he said. “This is quite a blow to the people of Canterbury [region], but I want them to know that the country is 100 percent behind them, that our resolution to see Christchurch rebuilt has not diminished in any way as a result of the aftershocks.”
The repair bill from the ongoing earthquakes, which began with a magnitude 7 shock 15 months ago, has already reached NZ$20 billion (US$15.5 billion).
As tension mounted in the city and a special help-line was set up for people feeling distressed, civil defense warned that the aftershocks would continue for some time.
“Unfortunately, when there is a large earthquake of this kind, people do need to expect aftershocks,” civil defense spokesman Vince Cholewa said.
It was too much for Sarah and Judah Matenga, who said they planned to move to Australia after seeing their property once again covered in liquefaction, a sludge pushed up through the earth by the force of the earthquake.
“That’s the plan, move to Oz,” Matenga told the New Zealand Herald.
“This is the last straw. Christmas still has to go ahead, but after that, we’ll be out of here,” he said.
His neighbor Sarno Yambasef said the initial shake seemed to lift his house off its piles.
“Everything was really rocking. It was a pretty violent shake, and now look at it. The liquefaction is just too much to deal with. The smell of sewage is awful. It reeks in the hall and bedroom. The walls are cracked,” he said.