On 4th September 2010, an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 struck the city of Christchurch at 4.35am local time. Fortunately, there were no fatalities due to the fact that it occurred very early on a Saturday morning when the streets were empty. Sadly, the earthquake caused some serious damage to several notable buildings at this historical city in New Zealand. However, many of the major landmarks including those at the Cathedral Square remained intact with only minor damage. Thousands of aftershocks were recorded as of January 2011 after the September earthquake, a few of high magnitude (about 5.0) which caused further damage to already affected buildings.
Yesterday (22 February 2011) at 12.51pm local time, during the busiest time of the day (lunch hour), another earthquake of magnitude 6.3 struck Christchurch again while the city was yet to fully recover from the effects from last September. Half an hour later at 1.21pm, an aftershock of magnitude 4.5 again rocked the city. Many buildings collapsed and it was reported that 2 buses were crushed by falling debris. There were 65 confirmed fatalities and about 200 missing or trapped within collapsed buildings as of yesterday. Rupture in roads and water pipes caused flood and chaos on the streets.
22 February 2011 was dubbed the darkest day in New Zealand by the Prime Minister John Key.
The TV continuously aired updates of the effects live from Christchurch all yesterday evening. Search and rescue operations are ongoing to rescue people who were trapped in buildings since afternoon. Mayor Bob Parker stressed that the focus was (and still is) to rescue as many lives as possible throughout the night. Two shelters were also set up to provide medical support, food, water and blankets to those who need it. More than a thousand were suddenly homeless as their homes were damaged in a matter of minutes.
The Mayor also urged people to stay calm and use text messages instead to avoid overloading telephone lines with non-emergency calls. With no power supply and water supply cut from 80% of the city while most sewage pumps damaged, the mayor advised those with water to boil it before consuming and not use their toilets at home. Instead, they should dig a deep hole in their backyards. The Christchurch airport was also closed and expected to open soon to domestic flights only for those who wish to get to the city and reach their loved ones quickly. More advice and information here. Hundreds of search and rescue personnel dispatched from all over New Zealand worked throughout the night.
As of this morning, Prime Minister John Key said there were 38 more confirmed deaths and sadly this number is expected to rise steadily as the day goes. Many who are trapped are also being rescued, some having their limbs amputated to be freed out of wrecked buildings. Help and support has also been pouring in from neighbouring Australia, Singapore, Israel and Britain to name a few. Gas stations were flooded with long queues of people trying to buy food, beverages and pump in petrol into their vehicles to get out of Christchurch.
I felt nothing in Auckland when the earthquake occurred but it is indeed very sad to watch the news yesterday and this morning about the situation in Christchurch. My heart goes out to those who are injured or lost their lives, homes, and loved ones in this unfortunate tragedy. Two major earthquakes in a span of 5 months – it is without a doubt the darkest day in New Zealand.
More detailed reports, photos, videos and updates from the NZ Herald can be found here.