Geologists suspect the worst is still to come for quake-ravaged Christchurch

Photo/SkinBintin via TwitpicsBy David Barber

Wellington (dpa) – A series of aftershocks, two of them of 5.4 magnitude, rocked earthquake-ravaged Christchurch overnight, causing more damage and terrifying city residents still traumatized by the weekend’s devastating tremor.

     Continuing jolts cracked walls in a school being used as an emergency shelter for people forced to leave their damaged houses, and had to be evacuated.

     “It was a rough night for everybody,” Mayor Bob Parker told Radio New Zealand Tuesday. “It’s very frightening.”

     Civil defence chief John Mitchell warned residents to prepare for worse, saying geologists advised that a quake even bigger than Saturday’s magnitude-7.4 event – the most damaging to hit a New Zealand city in 89 years – could occur.

     About 100,000 of the Christchurch area’s 160,000 houses were damaged, many beyond repair, Prime Minister John Key said after being briefed on the situation at Monday’s cabinet meeting in Wellington.

     With only about 250 people using emergency welfare centres, most of those forced to leave their homes are staying with friends and relatives – a situation Key said reflected “a real community spirit” in the post-quake situation.

     Christchurch remained under a state of emergency Tuesday with the central business district still cordoned off after bulldozers began pulling down buildings condemned by engineer inspectors.

     Soldiers maintained an overnight curfew on the centre where about 30 buildings, including some dating back to 1860, have been deemed unsafe to enter.

     Shops and offices in the centre, where about 50,000 commuters usually work, remained closed, as well as schools and the University of Canterbury.

     New Zealand has strict building codes, which recognize that it is one of the world’s most quake-prone countries, and city council inspectors declared 80 per cent of the 550 buildings in the central business district safe.

     Officials said the cordon could not be lifted, allowing normal business to resume, until the risk to workers and pedestrians from damaged and unstable buildings had been removed.

     Power was restored to all but about 1,000 householders by Tuesday, but the city’s wrecked underground water and sewage system remains the immediate biggest problem, with reports of outbreaks of gastroenteritis, presumably due to water contaminated with waste.

     Officials repeated appeals to boil all water used for drinking, cooking or cleaning teeth.