The confirmed death toll February 28 stood at 148 and was expected to rise above 200. Many were killed in three buildings that collapsed. Up to two-thirds of the central business district may have to be demolished. New Zealand prime minister John Key said it will take five to 10 years to rebuild the city.
The 6.3-magnitude earthquake follows a 7.1-size one that hit the city six months earlier on September 4. That quake, which occurred at night, caused widespread damage but no deaths. More then 4,000 aftershocks have since shaken the city, many of them severe. The latest quake hit at midday during a workday and produced extremely high ground acceleration. It was on a different fault line, nearer to the city and closer to the ground surface.
Residents in the suburbs were left without electricity, water, sanitation, or phone services. An estimated 100,000 houses were damaged and 10,000 destroyed. Roads were cracked. Liquefaction turned much of the soil to wet toxic mush, leaving a residue of 180,000 tons of silt. Worst hit were the predominantly working-class suburbs in the east.
As of February 28, around 35 percent of houses still have no water and wont for weeks. Fifteen percent have no power. All water must be boiled as sewage pipes are broken, causing contamination. Several cases of gastrointestinal illness have occurred. The City Council reports it has delivered 780 portable toilets to priority areas, but in many working-class areas that are most affected, residents report that none are available.
Thousands of the citys 350,000 inhabitants, especially the better off, have left the city. More than 50,000 flew out over the five days following the quake, double the normal rate.
Among the majority remaining many banded together in city neighborhoods to organize water distribution, cook food, accommodate the homeless, and clean up, as they did in the days following the September 4 quake. An immediate task was clearing sludge and silt.
Several thousand students are part of an organized group helping residents to clear silt and clean up properties. Known as the Student Volunteer Army, the group first formed following the previous quake.
Up to 1,000 farmers and others from surrounding districts have been organized by Federated Farmers to travel to the city each day with spades to help clear silt.
Maori organizations have been providing accommodation for the homeless and transporting food collected by Maori around the country into the city for distribution.
In the nearby town of Rangiora, some 500 volunteers have set up a center at the local race course collecting food, water, and other needed supplies, as well as preparing cooked meals, which are being flown by helicopter into the Christchurch suburbs for distribution.
Following the September 4 earthquake 181,702 insurance claims had been lodged with the Earthquake Commission for damage to homes and properties. To date only 23 percent of these had been paid out, leaving many damaged houses, shops, and other premises still awaiting repairs.
Key announced February 27 that household insurance premiums paid to the commission could now triple. He estimated the cost of rebuilding from the latest quake at more than $14 billion.
The destruction of so many buildings throughout the city has highlighted the inadequacy and lack of enforcement of building codes. A 2004 change in the law required local councils to adopt policies to strengthen older buildings to at least one-third of the current building standard. But even that inadequate measure has been ignored.
Agnes Sullivan and Ruth Gray in Christchurch contributed to this article.
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