The state of emergency in earthquake-stricken Christchurch has been extended for a further seven days after a violent aftershock this morning.
A magnitude 5.1 aftershock, the strongest since Saturday’s big quake, hit at 7.49am this morning (5.49am AEST) at a depth of six kilometres in the Lyttelton area. It was preceded by a 4.1 magnitude shock and followed by a 3.8.
It was one of a series of about 150 aftershocks, including 10 this morning, which have rocked Canterbury since Saturday’s destructive 7.1 earthquake.
Civil Defence spokesman David Miller said the decision to extend the state of emergency, which was due to be lifted today, was made in response to this morning’s aftershock.
It means Civil Defence has the power to close buildings and restrict access to certain areas.
AFTERSHOCK ‘VICIOUS BLOW’
People rushed from hotels and inner city businesses, and power was out in parts of Christchurch.
Cracks appeared in Lyttelton tunnel, forcing its closure.
People were advised not to use lifts in buildings following the latest aftershocks.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the gut-wrenching intensity of the latest quake reduced many emergency workers to tears and led to the evacuation of the Civil Defence offices.
“It was a devastatingly, vicious sharp blow to the city,” he told NewstalkZB.
“This was a terrifying moment. We have just had to evacuate our Civil Defence headquarters.
“We have got staff in tears, we have got fire engines going through the middle of the city, power is out and a lot of people are very, very churned up by that.
“My guts are just churning up here. When will this thing end? It is like living in a maelstrom.”
“This is a hammer blow to the spirit of a lot of people.”
The Lyttelton tunnel was closed after cracking appeared. Inspectors were checking the damage.
Evans Pass road was congested this morning, with slow-moving heavy trucks and slips holding up traffic.
Lyttelton Timebank coordinator Julie Lee said the town’s fire siren had sounded but there were no crowds assembled.
“I can still see the top of the Empire Hotel,” she said, referring to one of the buildings that suffered severe cracking in Saturday’s quake.
Lee appealed for “men in Lyttelton with good DIY skills” to be on-call to help with any repairs or chimneys that may need to come down.
She asked that able-bodied individuals contact her on 3288223.
Workers were pulling down balustrades from the top of the two-storey 1901 Jacobsen Tiles building at the corner of Moorhouse Avenue and Montreal Street after parts of them crashed to the street in the aftershock.
“The building has just been earthquake strengthened, that’s why the whole building is standing at the moment,” said John Small of Consortium Construction.
Ballantynes store in the central city, which was due to reopen this morning, will remain closed following the jolt.
About 20 staff were in the building at the time.
Westfield Mall in Riccarton has also closed.
‘It was really scary’
Christchurch resident Abbie Rilkoff said she felt the aftershock more strongly than Saturday’s quake.
“It was really scary. That one did more to our house than the big one, all the glasses moved from the shelves.”
Fiona Fidow said it was the only shock since the big quake that felt as violent and frightening as the first. It was a very sharp shake.
Colleen Simpson said: “I’m bloody terrified, all over again.”
Tony Stuart, a roofing contractor who lives on the Cashmere Hills, said he was in his office at his home when the latest earthquake hit.
“There was stuff off shelves, the other part of my neighbour’s wall has fallen off,” a badly shaken Mr Stuart said.
“This is the biggest aftershock we have had. There is stuff falling all over the place.
“It is very scary.”
A Stuff reporter in Christchurch said there was a “sudden jolt” and cracks appeared in her hotel room wall, and her power went out.
In the Millennium Hotel, on Cathedral Square, a staff member was stuck in a service lift and people were standing outside the building.
At the historic Press building, also in Cathedral Square, staffers were huddled outside under umbrellas.
Christchurch local Hessie Toms said this morning’s earthquake was “one hell of a jolt.”
“I was just going to go and have a coffee and then all of a sudden I felt this huge shudder.”
Mrs Toms who usually works at the Copthorne Hotel, which has been declared unsafe, had been working at another inner city hotel this morning.
“I just said, I’m going home. We never had any cracks in our house before but my husband just rang and we do now.
“It’s just a horrible, horrible feeling. You can’t sleep because you’re worried about earthquakes and then you feel a judder.”
“When I got to work this morning at 5am I couldn’t hear the birds chirping. That’s when I knew the earthquakes were still around.”
The emergency centre at the city’s art gallery was evacuated after the aftershock, Christchurch City Council spokeswoman Diane Keenan said.
“Everyone is really shaken, I’d say it’s pretty serious. The power went off but some of the traffic lights are working again now,” Keenan said.
“The jolt was absolutely huge. A really big, stiff jolt. And it was vertical, rather than side to side like the first one. If you were in a car the road moved up and down.”
GNS Science warned that the aftershocks may continue for some time and Christchurch City Council said the state of emergency was likely to remain, although it would be reassessed during the day.
In Waimakariri, one of the areas most damaged by the quake, council spokeswoman Monese Ball said the continual aftershocks was making life extremely tough for those trying to fix the water and sewage.
“Every time they fix breaks, more breaks appear. They’re chasing their tails,” Mrs Ball said.
Everyone in the Kaiapoi welfare centre was fine she said, but nerves were beginning to fray.
“It’s day four now, a few people are getting quite stressed. The sooner the kids especially can get back to school and some normality, the better.”
PRIME MINISTER’S RESPONSE
Prime Minister John Key was told about the aftershocks when he was on his way to inspect Kaiapoi this morning.
Mr Key is touring through the areas of Canterbury hardest hit by Saturday’s earthquake.
He emerged from his motorcade in Kaiapoi to be told by resident Cathryn Hopkinson that they had just felt another heavy aftershock. Mr Key did not feel the shake from inside his car.
Despite the heavy tremor, Mr Key is continuing his tour of the region and is now on his way to the epicentre of Saturday’s quake in Darfield.
SCHOOLS REMAIN CLOSED
Civil Defence says all schools in Christchurch city, Selwyn and Waimakariki Districts will remain closed today.
The Director of Civil Defence and Emergancy Management, John Hamilton, said that some schools might reopen on Thursday, but that is a decision that the individual Board of Trustees for each school to make.
Boards of Trustees must consider the safety of the schools when deciding whether to reopen.
Parents can contact their own schools for specific information about the situation there.