Quakes overshadow Christmas in New Zealand

The latest flurry of earthquakes began at 1:58pm (0628 IST) yesterday, sending Christmas shoppers fleeing from stores.

Updated: Dec 24, 2011, 13:43 PM IST

Wellington: Aftershocks continued to
rattle the earthquake-shattered New Zealand city of
Christchurch on Saturday overshadowing Christmas preparations for
weary residents in a "hellish year".

The unrelenting series of tremors, several stronger
than magnitude 5.0, had the city on edge again 10 months after
a devastating quake claimed 181 lives and destroyed much of
the inner city.

Emergency services were today rushing to restore
electricity and water supplies and an Army of 2,000 volunteers
were helping clean up the worst affected suburbs by Christmas

"There is a real determination in our city not to let
the events of the past 24 hours ruin Christmas. Our crews have
worked overnight and will be working all today to restore
services to the city," Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said.

"Our goal is that by the end of the day we will have
made the necessary emergency repairs to our water, wastewater
and roads.

"It has been a hellish year. I am determined to get as
much as we can fixed by tonight so that our staff, apart from
a skeleton team, can spend Christmas with their families."

The latest flurry of earthquakes began at 1:58pm (0628
IST) yesterday, sending Christmas shoppers fleeing from stores
in panic as stock fell from shelves and forcing the closure of
the international airport as a precaution.

Over the following 24 hours there were 39 earthquakes
of magnitude 3.0 or stronger including four over 5.0.

At least three houses that had been in a precarious
state following powerful shakes earlier in the year collapsed
and one large shopping mall was unable to open Christmas Eve,
one of the most lucrative days of the year.

As tension mounted in the city and a special help-line
was set up for people feeling distressed, civil defence warned
the aftershocks would continue for some time.

"Unfortunately when there is a large earthquake of
this kind, people do need to expect aftershocks," civil
defence spokesman Vince Cholewa said.

It was too much for Sarah and Judah Matenga, who said
they planned to move to Australia after seeing their property
once again covered in liquefaction, a sludge pushed up through
the earth by the force of the earthquake.

"That`s the plan, move to Oz," Matenga told the New
Zealand Herald. "This is the last straw, really. Christmas
still has to go ahead, but after that we`ll be out of here."

His neighbour Sarno Yambasef said the initial shake
seemed to lift his house off its piles.

"Everything was really rocking. It was a pretty
violent shake, and now look at it. The liquefaction is just
too much to deal with. The smell of sewage is awful. It reeks
in the hall and bedroom. The walls are cracked."