Publication

Disaster response: lessons from Christchurch

Abstract

Lying in New Zealand’s Canterbury Region, Christchurch is a city of about 400 000 people. It is the nation’s second largest city and the South Island’s largest. Although it is mainly on flat land, there are hilly suburbs between the port of Lyttelton and the city itself.

At 4.35 am on 4 September 2010 Canterbury suffered an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter Scale, on the previously unknown Greendale fault line. A local state of emergency was declared that morning, and Christchurch’s central business district was closed to the general public. The New Zealand Army was deployed to help in the worst affected areas of the city.

Despite this being a very serious earthquake, no lives were lost. About 5 per cent of the city had been damaged, mostly infrastructure. But this turned out to be only the beginning: on 26 December a 4.9 magnitude aftershock caused further damage, mainly in the CBD. No state of emergency was declared for this event, and nor were any lives lost.

Then, at 12.51 pm on 22 February 2011, Christchurch suffered a shallow 6.3 magnitude quake 10 kilometres east of the city centre. Again, this was on a previously unknown fault line, and the quake was, by world standards, very serious: 182 people died (just under half of them being foreign nationals), thousands suffered serious injuries, and there was massive damage throughout the city. A state of emergency was declared on 23 February.

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