/ 1 March 2011

New Zealand falls silent in quake memorial as toll rises

New Zealand will fall silent on Tuesday to mark the moment a deadly earthquake killed at least 154 people and shattered the city of Christchurch a week ago, with muffled church bells to ring and rescuers pausing briefly to grieve.

The country has been asked to observe two minutes silence at 12.51pm (23.51pm GMT) the exact moment a week ago when the magnitude 6,3 quake struck, levelling buildings and sending masonry and bricks on to streets filled with lunchtime shoppers and office workers.

“I expect this to be a very emotional day,” said local mayor Bob Parker.

“We will all get out of our motorcars, we will all stand outside our buildings, we will stand in the streets, gather in small groups, in communities around the city, and we will all observe that silence.”

Rescue workers have toiled day and night since the quake looking for survivors, but have found no-one since last Wednesday and conceded it is unlikely anyone else will be found alive.

Police have said the final death toll will probably be about 240, making it the country’s second worst natural disaster.

Building safety
Prime Minister John Key has said there will be an inquiry into how buildings in the city hit by last September’s force 7,1 quake were passed as safe for use.

“This is an event which has claimed the lives of many, many people so we need to provide some answers … both within the buildings where there’s been wide loss of life [and] the wider issues around the adequacy of the building code,” Key told reporters.

Concern had been raised about the condition of the 25-year-old Canterbury Television Building, which housed a language school and where nearly half the confirmed dead were killed.

A local council building official has said the CTV building and another site of many casualties, the Pyne Gould building, had been inspected and cleared as safe, but the strength of the quake was well above building standards.

The overall cost of the February 22 and the September 4 quakes has been put at about NZ$20-billion ($15-billion), with the second, more destructive, earthquake costing about three-quarters of the total. The government has said it expects to borrow more in the short term.

A package of emergency support measures for businesses and workers affected by the quake has been announced

“It will be the recovery of business that gives the city the greatest opportunity to rebuild itself, so it was a necessary package and it is probably the first of what will be ongoing support,” Earthquake Recovery minister Gerry Brownlee said.

Back to life
Shops and cafés have begun reopening in less affected areas, including the first cinema, with limited bus and postal services.

Power supplies have been restored to 85% of the city with a 41-tonne transformer to be installed later on Tuesday to help get electricity to the worst affected areas, where 10 000 homes have been marked as uninhabitable.

About two-thirds of the city has water but large areas still need to be supplied by tankers, and people are relying on portable toilets for sanitation.

Thousands of people have fled the city, and some have said they will never return.

“We have had enough. We want to go to Australia. Enough is enough,” said Gary Johnson, standing with his wife Lisa and two children, aged four and six, beside their smashed house in the suburb of Avonside.

Expatriate New Zealanders around the world have rallied to the city. In Britain, a group from the Christchurch area said they would meet for “a pint, a curry and a cry”.

Those on Facebook have changed profile pictures to black and red — Christchurch’s colours — in sympathy with the city, with some living in the United States holding fundraisers. – Reuters