Vintage: Christchurch earthquake, ten years on: How 25 seconds changed the city forever
It's been a decade since New Zealand's second-largest city suffered a 'one-in-2 500 year' earthquake, causing widespread destruction and the deaths of 185 people. It took just 25 seconds to change a city of 380 000 people forever. On 22 February 2011 at 12h51pm local time, a magnitude 6,3 earthquake struck New Zealand’s Port Hills, sending a devastating shockwave through the country’s then second-most-populous city, Christchurch. It caused widespread damage across Christchurch, killing 185 people, in the nation's fifth-deadliest disaster. Christchurch's central city and eastern suburbs were badly affected, with damage to buildings and infrastructure already weakened by the magnitude 7,1 Canterbury earthquake of 4 September 2010 and its aftershocks. Significant liquefaction affected the eastern suburbs, producing around 400 000 tons of silt.
Immediately, buildings crumbled and collapsed, causing some to catch fire. Among those that fell was the six-storey Canterbury Television building, which housed studios as well as an English language school and medical centre.
185 people from more than 20 countries died in the earthquake. Over half of the deaths occurred in the six-storey Canterbury Television (CTV) Building, which collapsed and caught fire in the earthquake. A state of local emergency was initially declared by the Mayor of Christchurch, which was superseded when the government declared a state of national emergency, which stayed in force until 30 April 2011.
Of the 185 victims, 115 people died in the Canterbury Television building alone, while another 18 died in the collapse of PGC House and eight were killed when masonry fell on Red Bus number 702 in Colombo Street. In each of these cases the buildings that collapsed were known to have been appreciably damaged in the September 2010 earthquake but the local authority had permitted the building to be re-occupied (CTV and PGC buildings) or protective barriers adjacent to them moved closer to areas at risk of falling debris (Colombo Street). An additional 28 people were killed in various places across the city centre, and twelve were killed in suburban Christchurch. Due to the injuries sustained some bodies remained unidentified. Between 6 600 and 6 800 people were treated for minor injuries and Christchurch Hospital alone treated 220 major trauma cases connected to the quake. Rescue efforts continued for over a week, then shifted into recovery mode. The last survivor was pulled from the rubble the day after the quake.
Immediately following the earthquake, 80 percent of Christchurch was without power. Water and wastewater services were disrupted throughout the city, with authorities urging residents to conserve water and collect rainwater. Prime Minister John Key confirmed that, "All Civil Defence procedures have now been activated; the Civil Defence bunker at parliament is in operation here in Wellington." It was only the second time that New Zealand had declared a national civil defence emergency; the first occasion was the 1951 waterfront dispute. The New Zealand Red Cross launched an appeal to raise funds to help victims. A full response management structure was put in place within minutes of the quake, with the Christchurch City Council's alternate Emergency Operations Centre re-established in the City Art Gallery and the regional Canterbury CDEM Group Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) activated in its post-earthquake operational facility adjacent to the Canterbury Regional Council offices. Within two hours of the quake national coordination was operating from the National Crisis Management Centre located in the basement of the Beehive in Wellington.
A composite "Christchurch Response Centre" was established in the Christchurch Art Gallery, a modern earthquake-resilient building in the centre of the city which had sustained only minor damage. On 23 February the Minister of Civil Defence, John Carter declared the situation a state of national emergency, the country's first for a civil defence emergency (the only other one was for the 1951 waterfront dispute). Meanwhile, the Canterbury CDEM Group ECC had relocated to the fully operational University of Canterbury Innovation (UCi3) building to the West of the city, when the Copthorne Hotel adjacent to the Regional Council offices threatened to fall onto the offices and ECC. Once the composite Christchurch Coordination Centre was established on 23 February the CDEM Group Controllers and ECC personnel relocated to the City Art Gallery to supplement the management personnel available to the National Controller.
As per the protocols of New Zealand's Coordinated Incident Management System, the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, and the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan and Guide, Civil Defence Emergency Management became lead agency—with the Director of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management John Hamilton as National Controller. CDEM were supported by local authorities, New Zealand Police, Fire Service, Defence Force and many other agencies and organisations.
Gerry Brownlee, a Cabinet Minister, had his regular portfolios distributed amongst other cabinet ministers so that he could focus solely on earthquake recovery.
Establishment of Red Zone
A Central City Red Zone was established on the day of the earthquake as a public exclusion zone in central Christchurch. Both COGIC, French Civil Protection and the American USGS requested the activation of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters on the behalf of MCDEM New Zealand, thus readily providing satellite imagery for aid and rescue services.
Search and rescue
The New Zealand Fire Service coordinated search and rescue, with support from the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams from New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, United States, Japan, Taiwan, China and Singapore, totalling 150 personnel from New Zealand and 429 from overseas. They also responded to fires, serious structural damage reports and landslides working with structural engineers, seismologists and geologists, as well as construction workers, crane and digger operators and demolition experts.
NSW Task Force 1, a team of 72 urban search and rescue specialists from New South Wales, Australia was sent to Christchurch on two RAAF C-130J Hercules, arriving 12 hours after the quake. A second team of 70 from Queensland, Queensland Task Force 1, including three sniffer dogs, was sent the following day on board a RAAF C-17. A team of 55 Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team members from the Singapore Civil Defence Force were sent. The United States sent Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force 2, a 74-member heavy rescue team consisting of fire fighters and paramedics from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, doctors, engineers and 26 tons of pre-packaged rescue equipment. Japan sent 70 search-and-rescue personnel including specialists from the coastguard, police and fire fighting service, as well as three sniffer dogs. The team left New Zealand earlier than planned due to the 9,0 earthquake which struck Japan on 11 March 2011. The United Kingdom sent a 53 strong search and rescue team including nine Welsh fire fighters who had assisted the rescue effort during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Taiwan sent a 22-member team from the National Fire Agency, along with two tons of specialist search and rescue equipment. China sent a 10-member specialist rescue team.
The New Zealand Defence Force, staging their largest-ever operation on New Zealand soil, provided logistics, equipment, transport, airbridges, evacuations, supply and equipment shipments, survey of the Port and harbour and support to the agencies, including meals; they assisted the Police with security, and provided humanitarian aid particularly to Lyttelton, which was isolated from the city in the first days. Over 1 400 Army, Navy and Air Force personnel were involved and Territorials (Army Reserve) were called up. They were supplemented by 116 soldiers from the Singapore Army, in Christchurch for a training exercise at the time of the earthquake, who assisted in the cordon of the city.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force provided an air bridge between Christchurch and Wellington using two Boeing 757 and three C-130 Hercules, and bringing in emergency crews and equipment and evacuating North Island residents and tourists out of Christchurch. One P-3 Orion was deployed in the initial stages of the disaster to provide images and photographs of the city. Three RNZAF Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopters were also used to transport Police, VIP's and aid to locations around Christchurch. Three RNZAF Beechcraft Super King Air aircraft were also used to evacuate people from Christchurch. The crew of the Navy ship Canterbury, in Lyttelton Harbour at the time of the earthquake, provided meals for 1 000 people left homeless in that town and accommodation for a small number of locals. The Royal Australian Air Force also assisted with air lifts. On one of their journeys, an RAAF Hercules sustained minor damage in an aftershock.
The army also operated desalination plants to provide water to the eastern suburbs.
The emergency department of Christchurch Hospital treated 231 patients within one hour of the earthquake. The department responded to the situation by activating their crisis plan, forming 20 trauma teams. After a downturn in demand, a second wave of patients started arriving, many with much more severe injuries. Staff was grateful that they did not have to employ triage but were able to deal with all patients.
A field hospital providing 75 beds was set up in the badly affected eastern suburbs on 24 February. It was equipped to provide triage, emergency care, maternity, dental care, isolation tents for gastroenteritis and to provide primary care since most general practices in the area were unable to open.
Australia's foreign minister Kevin Rudd told Sky News that New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully had asked for further help from Australia. He said Australia would send counsellors over and a disaster medical assistance team comprising 23 emergency and surgical personnel.
The earthquake was felt across the South Island and parts of the lower and central North Island. While the initial quake only lasted for approximately 10 seconds, the damage was severe because of the location and shallowness of the earthquake's focus in relation to Christchurch as well as previous quake damage. Subsequent population loss saw the Christchurch main urban area temporarily fall behind the Wellington equivalent to decrease from second to third most populous area in New Zealand.
“I could just see this great big ominous cloud of dust rising up from the city wherever I looked, and I knew that meant buildings had collapsed,” Bob Parker, the mayor of Christchurch when the earthquake hit, said at the time. “And I knew from the violence of the shake that there were probably going to be injuries.”
While New Zealanders are used to earthquakes, engineers estimate the level of damaged sustained in the Christchurch disaster was a 'one-in-2 500-year' event.
Builder Brent Scantlebury was in the centre of town when it hit. Shortly after the quake, he said he saw buildings “going down like dominoes”.
“It took a long time for it to set in, what actually happened,” he said. “I stood up and I looked down the street and I could just see buildings crumbling and falling out into streets and onto cars and people running to try and get away.”
Among the many heritage buildings to be damaged or destroyed was the iconic Anglican cathedral in the city centre.
Immediately after the shock, Parker said he didn’t think there would be “such huge loss of life” but quickly realised it wouldn’t be good news. “It seemed inevitable there would be people in pain as a result of that 25 seconds,” he said. “The thought of that overwhelmed me … that there were people I loved and knew and they were out there.”
Australia's prime minister at the time, Julia Gillard, pledged support and rescue teams flew in almost immediately. Among them were fire crews from New South Wales deployed to the Pyne Guinness Gould building, which had collapsed.
Superintendent Tom Cooper, one of the leaders of the fire team, described discovering a female survivor who was trapped on the second floor of the collapsed building. “It was a protracted rescue because she was in a bad position and the danger was that she could fall and that some of the steel that they used in the reinforcement of the concrete could have injured her in some way,” he said. It took almost four hours to free the woman, who had been trapped in the building for a total of 22 hours. The destruction was unlike anything Superintendent Cooper had ever seen.
Parker predicted soon after the quake hit the city would “never be the same again for any of us”.
Following the tragedy, many residents left the city, dropping Christchurch’s population behind Wellington, which then became the country’s second-largest city.
Design and stabilisation work is still underway to reinstate the Anglican cathedral, with services temporarily held at the so-called “cardboard cathedral” nearby.
Christchurch Cathedral is under repair nearly 10 years after the deadly earthquake rocked the city. Other well-known buildings have gone, damaged beyond repair. The New Zealand government has said around 10 000 houses needed to be demolished, while 100 000 needed repair.
Two years after the quake, the New Zealand Government estimated the total cost of the rebuild would be up to $40 billion NZD. Economists forecast the national economy could take up to 100 years to fully recover.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday attended a service marking 10 years since the earthquake. Hundreds of people gathered at a memorial wall in Christchurch, observing a minute’s silence as flags flew at half-mast. Prime Minister Ardern said it was time to look ahead with hope for the future of New Zealand’s second-largest city. “It’s been a hugely difficult decade for this city; at times I’m sure it’s felt impossible,” she said in a speech at the memorial. “But as we look ahead to the coming decade, I see hope and energy and optimism and I see Christchurch taking its rightful place amongst New Zealand’s best and brightest cities.”
Source: SBS News, Wikipedia, BBC, 3 News