By Chris Bourke, ©2011 Bloomberg News
Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) — Christchurch, New Zealand’s second- largest city, was struck by a series of earthquakes flooding roads, damaging some buildings and forcing officials to evacuate shopping malls two days before Christmas.
No fatalities, serious injuries or widespread damage was reported following the temblors, the first of which struck just before 2 p.m., New Zealand Police said in an e-mailed statement. The initial earthquake was magnitude 5.8 and was followed by aftershocks including one at about 3:19 p.m. of magnitude 5.9, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Christchurch, on the nation’s South Island, is recovering from a series of earthquakes that started in September last year, the worst being a magnitude 6.3 temblor that killed 181 people on Feb. 22. Ten months later, many residents are waiting on property repairs while businesses have closed or relocated because of devastation in the central city.
“Our Christmas is not going to be the Christmas we had hoped for,” Mayor Bob Parker told Television New Zealand.
The New Zealand dollar fell as low as 77.23 U.S. cents from 77.53 cents immediately before the first earthquake. It bought 77.52 cents at 5:30 p.m. in Wellington.
The first temblor was centered 20 kilometers (13 miles) north-east of the city and 8 kilometers deep, New Zealand’s GeoNet reported. The stronger quake was shallower and closer to the city, it said.
Christchurch Cathedral, which is being partially demolished after suffering damage in February, was further affected, Roger Sutton, chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, told reporters at a televised news conference. Other large buildings in the central business district don’t appear to be badly affected, he said.
Christchurch International Airport Ltd. will resumes flights from about 6 p.m. after being closed four hours, it said in a statement. There was no damage to runways or systems and the terminal is open after being evacuated, Chief Executive Officer Jim Boult said.
An office building in the eastern suburb of New Brighton was damaged, and staff were safely evacuated, police said. Other properties have been cordoned off after suffering damage, and a previously damaged house has collapsed, police said.
In the east of the city there are reports of liquefaction, a phenomenon that causes soil to lose its strength after violent shaking, police said. Some roads are flooded, covered with silt or have large holes. People are being urged to stay away from hillside areas after rock falls.
As many as 26,000 people were without electricity, grid operator Orion Networks Ltd. said on its website. Police urged people to stay off roads as traffic congestion increased.
New Zealand faces a NZ$20 billion ($15 billion) bill to rebuild homes, roads and commercial buildings in Christchurch and surrounding towns after the earthquakes the past 15 months. More than 6,500 homes have been condemned while 900 central city buildings are being demolished.
–With assistance from Tracy Withers in Wellington. Editors: Iain Wilson, Tracy Withers
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