Quake terror in New Zealand

By admin
25 February 2011

When first reports of the earthquake in New Zealand reached South Africa shock quickly spread across the country. People were anxious – were their friends and family among those killed or trapped in the rubble?

Ironically many South Africans sought a safer future in Christchurch, far from the crime at home. Relatives and friends desperately called New Zealand to make sure their loved ones weren’t among the 90 victims or 300 missing late in the week in the country’s second-biggest city.

“Christchurch has been hit hard,” South African Corrie Rademeyer says. He lives in the northeast of Wellington, a city on the so-called Australian fault line. This is where everyone was expecting the next quake to hit – but tragedy struck Christchurch instead.

“It happened at lunchtime. An earthquake of this magnitude brings down buildings without warning, showers streets with bricks falling from a great height, wreaks havoc with traffic, breaks power cables, gas pipelines, telephone lines and water pipes,” he says.

“Three women were on the fifth storey of a building and when the dust had settled they could walk straight out into the street. The floors beneath them simply vanished.”

The quake, measuring 6,3 on the Richter scale, struck Christchurch on 22 February – just six months after an earthquake measuring 7,1 hit the same area.

“September’s quake struck in the early hours of the morning when everyone was asleep,” Corrie says.

“No one was killed but it was followed by hundreds of aftershocks, including a massive one the day after Christmas.”

The most recent earthquake did much more damage than last year’s because its epicentre was just 10 km from Christchurch’s city centre, while last year’s was 40 km away.

Corrie says since September’s quake everyone had been expecting a big one to hit Wellington.

“I know someone who phoned a friend in Wellington from under her kitchen table in Christchurch to find out if they were alive. She thought the earthquake was a taste of the big one hitting Wellington.”

Community morale is low but it hasn’t been broken, South African-born David Coetzee says. He works for the New Zealand National Disaster Management Centre and is in control of the national response to the quake.

He says communities fear the worst and know even bigger quakes are coming. “People are keeping survival kits with food, candles, transistor radios, torches, batteries and medicine. It’s a question of when, not if.”

Read more about it in YOU, 3 March 2011.

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