Christchurch still shaking, Xmas services outside

2011-12-24 22:36

Wellington - As a series of minor tremors continued to shake Christchurch on Sunday, all churches in the city were preparing to hold Christmas Day services outdoors because of the risk of their buildings collapsing.

It was a precautionary measure because officials said engineers had not had a chance to check the safety of buildings since a wave of big tremors, including one of magnitude-6, hit the city on Friday.

Seismologists recorded eight tremors - ranging between magnitude-3 and 3.7 - in two-and-a-half hours before 07:15 (18:15 GMT on Saturday.

All were centred within 10-20km of the city, which has been devastated by a series of quakes since September 2010.

Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews said outdoor services would avoid the risk of having large numbers of people in a closed space in the event of another large quake, Radio New Zealand reported.

St Mary's Pro Cathedral, in the central city, cancelled a number of planned Christmas Day services to hold one simple service on the front lawn outside the building, the report said.

Although a Presbyterian church in suburban Riccarton was believed to be sound, its service was being held in a nearby lounge to allay people's fears.

Some areas not safe

Mayor Bob Parker said geotechnical reports on hillside suburbs, where rocks tumbled onto roads in Friday's quakes, had confirmed some areas were not safe.

"It has been a hellish year," he said, but there was real determination to not allow the quakes to ruin Christmas.

Christchurch had kept shaking on Saturday as thousands of residents spent Christmas Eve cleaning up their homes and streets from tons of oozing mud and silt tossed up by 24 hours of earthquakes, which began with a magnitude-5.8 tremor shortly before 14:00 on Friday.

Miraculously nobody died in the city, which saw 181 deaths in a magnitude-6.3 quake in February that devastated the commercial centre and forced some suburbs to be abandoned because liquefaction turned the ground on which houses were built into a slimy sea of mud.

Roads were closed in eastern suburbs and near the city centre as large amounts of silt thrown up by the quakes were removed.

As Christmas marked the start of the summer holiday for most New Zealanders, authorities declared Christchurch's Avon River, city beaches and estuaries out of bounds for at least three days because of sewage contamination.

All city council premises, including libraries and recreation centres, were closed until further notice.Author: David Barber

Read more on:    new zealand  |  earthquakes
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