The inhabitants of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island knew they were at risk front earthquakes, living as they do close to numerous fault lines. So it came as no surprise when the country’s second city was rocked by a quake with a magnitude of 7.1 in September 2010, with an epicenter 40 km (25 mi) to the west. Mercifully, as shaken residents took stock it was apparent they had escaped lightly. There was minor property damage and two people had been seriously injured, but no deaths.
Repeated aftershocks occurred, none resulting in significant damage or injury. The city’s population breathed a collective sigh of relief and went about their business in the comforting knowledge that New Zealand’s Earthquake Commission estimated that quakes of such magnitude should occur no more frequently than once every half century.
Unfortunately, the Commission would soon be proved wrong. In late February 2011, another earthquake rocked Christchurch. This 6.3- magnitude event was less severe than its predecessor, but infinitely more deadly Striking just 10 km (6 mi) from the bustling city center in early afternoon, it caused massive damage and many deaths. Occurring on a previously unknown fault line, its shallow depth and close proximity proved devastating. Emergency operations were coordinated from the quake-proof Christchurch Art Gallery, but the task was daunting. A combination of widespread structural damage, fires and landslips hampered search-and-rescue operations, and the last survivor was recovered on the following day. Many casualties occurred in the collapsed Canterbury Television building and the spire of Christchurch Cathedral fell. Over one thousand severely damaged buildings were subsequently demolished. After the quake, New Zealand’s Premier John Kay said that February 22 ‘may well be New Zealand’s darkest day’, joining the world in expressing sympathy for the traumatized residents of Christchurch.
When: February 22 2011
Where: Lyttleton, Canterbury Region, South Island, New Zealand
Death toll: 181 (identified or believed kilted)
You should know: Swift governmental response and the rapid arrival of specialist international teams prevented the disaster from being much worse. Some 300 Australian police officers helped manage the aftermath, leaving their guns behind and being sworn in as New Zealand Police. Nearly 600 search-and-rescue experts, structural engineers, seismologists and DVl (Disaster Victim Identification) personnel from countries including Australia, the UK, USA, China and Japan jetted in to help. The New Zealand Defence Force assisted in many areas of activity, including the provision of humanitarian aid to the town of Lyttleton close to the quake’s epicenter, which was initially cut off. Subsequently, a series of serious aftershocks hampered reconstruction efforts.