Strong aftershocks topple buildings in shattered Christchurch

  • @kathymarksoz

With rebuilding yet to start following a devastating earthquake four months ago, Christchurch was hit by a series of strong aftershocks yesterday which toppled more buildings and caused panic among traumatised residents.

Masonry crashed to the ground in the city centre, cliff sides crumbled destroying homes (pictured above) boulders tumbled down hillsides, blocking bridges and roads. Dozens of people were injured, some of them seriously, and electricity and water supplies were cut. Several cars disappeared into sinkholes as roads turned to liquid (pictured left).

New Zealand's second biggest city has experienced thousands of aftershocks since the February quake, which killed 181 people and was the country's worst natural disaster. But yesterday's tremors were particularly strong, with one registering 6.0 magnitude, according to the US Geological Survey. Terrified people fled office blocks and shopping malls. "We are being enveloped with dust," the Mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker, told National Radio after the 6.0 tremor. "It is very, very scary."

By grim coincidence, an inquiry into the collapse of the Canterbury Television building, where more than 100 people died in February, had just opened when the city began to tremble. As the building shook and plaster fell from the ceiling, grieving relatives ran to safety. "They [the aftershocks] are a terrible reminder," said Mike Barry, whose sister was killed.

In the "red zone", the city centre area still closed to the public, two workers were trapped when the façade of a church where they had been retrieving stained-glass windows collapsed. They were rescued, and taken to hospital with cuts and bruises. Roger Sutton, chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, said the fresh damage meant some buildings that had been salvageable "are now seriously damaged and will have to be brought down".

New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, said: "This has been a setback for Christchurch and its people, but it does not lessen our resolve to rebuild." He said his heart went out to residents, some of whom were "back to square one" after cleaning debris. Tens of thousands of people were without power, with temperatures forecast to approach freezing overnight.