Sunday, September 5, 2010
#1193 ... Thoughts with our neighbours in Christchurch
A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand's South Island last night, causing widespread damage to buildings, although there were few injuries. Christchurch mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency four hours after tremors rocked the region, warning that continuing aftershocks could cause masonry to fall from damaged buildings. The quake hit 19 miles west of the city, on the east coast of the island, at 4.35am local time. Residents reported collapsed buildings and bridges, as well as power cuts. Christchurch, which has a population of around 400,000 people, was then rocked with a series of sharp aftershocks.
No deaths have been reported so far but doctors at Christchurch Hospital said they had treated two men with serious injuries. One was hit by a falling chimney and was in intensive care, while a second was seriously hurt after being cut by glass, a hospital spokeswoman said. Other minor injuries have also been reported. "There is considerable damage in the central city," police inspector Mike Coleman told New Zealand's National Radio. Police Inspector Alf Stewart told the station that some people had been arrested for looting. "We have some reports of people smashing [shop] windows and trying to grab some property that is not theirs … we've got police on the streets and we're dealing with that," he said. Colleen Simpson, a Christchurch resident, said panicked neighbours ran into the streets in their pyjamas. She said some buildings had collapsed, there was no power and the mobile telephone network had failed. "There is a row of shops completely demolished right in front of me," she told the Stuff news website.
Another person from Christchurch, Kevin O'Hanlon, said the jolt was extremely powerful. "I was awake to go to work and then just heard this massive noise and 'boom'," he said. "It was like the house got hit. It just started shaking. I've never felt anything like it."
Bruce Russell, 50, said that although he lives in Lyttelton, a port town to the south of Christchurch, which is on firmer volcanic ground, the earthquake had been "very alarming". "We were woken up at 4.30am and it swayed like a ship at sea," he said. "It was very alarming. We have no power, which is a problem across [Christchurch]. We're listening to reports on a wind-up radio. It's still very frightening."
Russell said he had not experienced an earthquake on this scale before. There have been local reports that some people many have been trapped in damaged houses. Video footage showed some cars crushed by heaps of fallen bricks. Authorities were advising residents to stay inside until given the all-clear.
Residents have been asked not to flush toilets because of potential damage to the city's sewerage system which could lead to contamination. Christchurch airport was also closed as a precaution while runways were safety checked.
Despite tsunami fears by residents, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said "no destructive widespread tsunami threat existed, based on historical earthqake and tsunami data".New Zealand lies above an area of the Earth's crust where two tectonic plates collide and the country records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year – but only about 150 are usually felt. Schoolchildren in the country regularly undertake earthquake drills.