Parts of Christchurch to be abandoned
Wellington - Christchurch was so badly damaged in last month's deadly earthquake that parts of New Zealand's second largest city will have to be abandoned, Prime Minister John Key said on Tuesday.
Key confirmed 10 000 homes faced demolition after the 6.3-magnitude tremor which is believed to have claimed more than 200 lives, warning that rebuilding would not be possible in some areas.
"We simply don't know," he told Radio New Zealand when asked which parts of the city would be deserted. "We know there's been substantial liquefaction damage.
"It's a statement of fact that there will be some properties that can't be rebuilt... the question is whether it (rebuilding) is possible for certain parts of the city, certain streets or houses."
Key said geotechnical engineers were working urgently to clarify the areas worst affected by liquefaction, caused when the quake's shaking loosened the bonds between soil particles, turning the ground into a quagmire.
Community worker Tom McBrearty said the prime minister's comments had increased anxiety among residents still reeling from the February 22 quake.
McBrearty said his group Cancern (Canterbury Communities’ Earthquake Recovery Network) had been flooded with hundreds of calls from locals concerned Key's remarks indicated their suburbs were set to become ghost towns.
"It was a shocker," he told national news agency NZPA.
"They interpreted... it as being that the riverside communities would not be allowed to be rebuilt, which is at this stage is incorrect. We don't know, we're still waiting for final analysis."
Key said the government would provide financial assistance to those who were forced to move and was in talks with developers about releasing new subdivisions to cope with the demand for housing in the stricken city.
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said speculation on the fate of entire suburbs was "alarmist" and urged residents to wait until geotechnical reports were complete.
The death toll from the earthquake stood at 166 on Tuesday but police expect it to rise to more than 200.
Meanwhile, Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully said the disaster was likely to lead to a "pause" in international tickets sales for the tournament, which will be held in New Zealand from September 9 to October 23.
"We anticipate that we'll lose some ground for a while, whether we can make that up later is another matter," he said, adding that he was optimistic Christchurch could take part in the largest event ever staged in the country.
"We're operating on the basis that if it can happen, we'll make it happen," he told reporters.
McCully said the government would receive initial reports on Thursday into damage at Christchurch's AMI Stadium, which is slated to host five pool matches and two quarter-finals.
Lack of accomodation
He said the playing surface at the ground, which is closed until March 15 for damage assessment, had a significant "bulge" caused by liquefaction and there were "structural issues" with some of the stands.
The lack of hotel accommodation in the city, where one third of the downtown area faces demolition, was also a concern, McCully said.
He said the International Rugby Board would make the final decision on Christchurch's participation in the tournament, describing the Dublin-based organisation as "enormously supportive" of efforts to keep matches in the city.