Christchurch Earthquake

Tuesday, 22 February 2011
What a day - probably the blackest day in New Zealand history.

Just a few hours ago a magnitude 6.3 earthquake took another swipe at Christchurch city ... this one much closer to the city and much more aggressive than the first.

Unlike last time I was at work and from the sixth floor office, I had a lovely view of the 110 year old Anglican cathedral and the beautiful square.

That changed in minutes as the 6.3 quake hit. It shook my office to bits; room tiles, monitors, PC's came crashing down and water pipes in the ceiling burst as the building shook off its foundations.

Next door a building collapsed and crashed into ours, at ground level, ending up lodged across it.

I took shelter under my desk, as we are taught here, but all I could hear was this huge rumbling and crashing as the buildings in the square came down around us. Our building, through some miracle and a touch of good quake engineering, stayed upright.

As soon as the shaking stopped we started evacuating. My first thought was, as I looked out the window, how foggy it was in the square, only to realise that this "fog" was masonry dust. A second glance revealed that the cathedral was gone. The spire had collapsed into the square and back into the cathedral itself.
We evacuated the building by way of the dark basement, where we experienced a strong smell of gas. We waded through deep water and eventually reached the square.

Christchurch is a big tourist centre and many visitors were in town because of the Ellerslie Flower Show in the Garden City. Also, there was a major doctors' conference in the city. The city was really packed with tourists.

It was instantly obvious that there were many injured and I started first-aiding a whole bunch of people not far from the office. They included a poor old gentleman from Scotland and his wife, in a building opposite ours where a wall had collapsed on them. He was in a bad way, with obvious multiple traumas, so I got some people to help comfort him while I tried to see to others who had started collecting around us in a small triage area.

We spoke to a police constable who was trying to help, but he was having problems raising an ambulance, so we commandeered a 4x4 van and a "ute" and loaded about six people into them and made our way to hospital.

The hospital was very busy treating many injured people. The fatality number stood at 65, but rescue workers were still searching many collapsed buildings. Many fatalities were from falling masonry, which crushed cars, buses etc.

Some buildings had collapsed from six floors to one and several were on fire. Unknown numbers of people were still missing in the collapsed buildings.

Many of the bridges across the Avon river in the city were damaged, power to 70% of the city was out and power lines damaged. Numerous roads were buckled and twisted and many gas and water mains broken.

I guess, on a personal note, I'm relieved that my fiancee, our boys and close family are fine and colleagues, etc all managed to get out OK despite damage to our building.

Like many, I had a long walk out of the city and after some time managed to hook up with my family.

Having been through the magnitude 7.1 earthquake, on 4th September 2010, this was way bigger in terms of destructive force and the damage it caused.

The central business district looked like it had been through the blitz, many of the historic buildings that survived the previous quakes and shocks simply could not take any more and collapsed.

There were also a lot of newer buildings that could not take the hammering and collapsed, including the Canterbury TV station building, Pine Gould Guiness building and the Cathedral.

The local paper headoffice building, "The Press", did not fare any better and, sad to report, it too collapsed with many people also trapped inside.

Simon Lewis ZL4PLM

A small team of amateur radio operators were keeping the lines of communication open in earthquake hit areas of Christchurch.

The head of the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications team, Richard Smart, said 10 amateurs were using their two emergency broadcast vans to keep rescue teams and Civil Defence staff in touch.

He said one is at a major welfare centre providing portable communication so they could talk to Civil Defence and other vehicles is en route to assist search and rescue teams in an area where communication was poor.

Mr Smart said amateur radio operators from around the country were volunteering to help out and others were sending updates on the disaster to families of people in Christchurch who were overseas.

Copyright © 2011, Radio New Zealand

Christchurch Cathedral
Christchurch Earthquake Damage
Christchurch Street

Update May 2012

Much has happened in the 15 months since the earthquake of February 2011, some 187 deaths now on record.

The city is trying to move on, but with bureaucratic jealousies, parochialism and egos alive and well, the CBD is most likely to be broken for a couple of decades, at least.

The real cost to humanity is in the suburbs with an estimated 100,000 displaced. 10,000 homes are under demolition orders.

New Container Mall


PDG Stuart J Batty
RNZWCS Limited (Rotary New Zealand)
P.O. Box 20309
Christchurch 8543
New Zealand
Ph/Fax: +64 3 3599218
Mobile phone: +64 027 2695615