Christchurch centre cordoned off after new tremors


Wellington : Some blocks were cordoned off in New Zealand’s second-largest city, Christchurch, Sunday after 20 buildings were damaged by tremors nearly four months after a magnitude-7.1 quake devastated the central business district.

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The biggest of 15 tremors between 2 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. measured 4.9 and was centred just five kilometres from the city centre, cutting power to 40,000 premises, evacuating malls packed with shoppers for post-Christmas sales and hotels full of holidaymakers.

There were no reported injuries.

Police said cordons would remain in place around blocks where glass and masonry was shaken to the ground, until buildings were inspected to ensure the safety of shoppers and passers-by.

As 10 civil defence teams began assessing the damage, mostly to buildings already affected by the Sep 4 quake, acting Mayor Ngaire Button said she hoped the cordon would be in place for only days, not weeks.

Power was restored to most areas inside an hour and the city council said water and drainage systems escaped damage.

Terrified shoppers hunting for sales bargains ran into the streets when the 4.9 tremor struck and the fire service received hundreds of calls from inner city residents reporting falling glass and bricks.

A suburban liquor store reported that 70 boxes of wine and spirits had been broken after being shaken off shelves, Radio New Zealand reported.

More than 3,600 aftershocks have been recorded since the Sep 4 quake, but Sunday’s series of tremors were the first significant ones for nearly a month.

Seismologist John Ristau told Television New Zealand they would continue for months.

“They will with time decrease in frequency and then there won’t be as many big ones. But you can expect the odd big one to come in,” he said. “You can’t really say when the last big one’s going to be.”