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Christchurch Curfew Imposed as Quake-Hit City Buildings Teeter

Rescue workers carry the body of a deceased woman in Christchurch. Photographer: Martin Hunter/Getty Images
Rescue workers carry the body of a deceased woman in Christchurch. Photographer: Martin Hunter/Getty Images

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Police imposed a nightly curfew in some areas of Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-largest city, amid concerns more buildings may collapse following the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that killed at least 75 people.

Members of the public who enter an area within the city center’s four main avenues after 6:30 p.m. local time will be arrested, according to the New Zealand Police website. Christchurch’s tallest building, the Grand Chancellor Hotel, is unstable and appears to be moving, police said. Workers have stopped searching the remains of the collapsed Canterbury Television building because of safety concerns.

Fifty-five victims have been named with another 20 recovered and awaiting identification, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters today. Rescuers are digging through wreckage left by yesterday’s temblor, the nation’s deadliest in 80 years. Television images show one side of the 26-story Chancellor cracking and sagging.

“Today, all New Zealanders grieve for you, Christchurch,” Key said in Wellington as he prepared to board a plane for the wrecked city. “Many people have lost their lives. Families have lost their cherished loved ones. Mates have lost their mates.”

New Zealand declared a national state of emergency to coordinate help from outside the Christchurch region, according to the Civil Defense Department’s website. While people continue to present themselves at triage centers and hospitals, confirmed numbers of injured weren’t available.

Thirty aftershocks with a magnitude of 4 to 6 have been felt since yesterday’s temblor, the defense department said.

Trapped Alive

About 300 people are unaccounted for with some possibly trapped in buildings and the Grand Chancellor has been evacuated, New Zealand Police said.

“There are 30 people we’re aware that are trapped alive in a couple of buildings and there have been a number of bodies removed,” Aaron Gilmore, a National Party member of parliament, told Bloomberg Television.

Twenty-three Japanese students who were enrolled at an education college in the city of about 400,000 are included in the missing, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today. One Australian is among the dead, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in Canberra today.

Australia is sending 300 police and 140 Australian rescuers are to join the relief efforts. Japan will send a 70-person emergency relief team, Prime Minister Naoto Kan told his nation’s parliament.

The death toll from the quake, the strongest since September when the city was shaken by a 7.0 magnitude temblor, is the worst since the Napier earthquake in 1931 killed 256. Yesterday’s quake sent office workers fleeing into streets strewn with shattered glass, paper, bricks and broken concrete.

City Counts Damage

Damage to central city buildings was greater than the September temblor because it was shallower and centered just 10 kilometers southeast of Christchurch, according to The Sept. 4 quake was focused 55 kilometers northwest of the city and was also deeper.

Yesterday’s temblor struck at 12:51 p.m. local time during the lunchtime break, whereas the September temblor hit at 4:35 a.m. and claimed no lives.

In the 17-story Forsyth Barr Ltd. building in the city center, the stairwell collapsed and employees were lifted out by cranes, John Owen, a director at Forsyth Barr, said in a telephone interview. “It took four or five hours to get everybody out,” he said.

At midday today, an army helicopter circled a nearly silent city center almost 24 hours after the quake. At cordons, people talked to army and police staff as they tried to access homes or hotels. Others wheeled suitcases along deserted streets.

Flooding, Cracks

Cracks several meters long run along some streets. Other main roads swell with sandy mud and surface flooding stretching across footpaths and much of the roads.

On the corner of Gloucester Street and Oxford Terrace in the center, the 10-level Brannigans building’s windows have been shattered. Helmeted inspectors, meanwhile, go through the task of checking buildings individually.

As reporters interviewed fire officers, an aftershock rippled the glass exterior of the Art Gallery, which is serving as the civil defense base. The shake toppled a chimney off the heritage-listed Art Center.

Rescuers are pulling survivors from several city buildings, as well as bodies, according to television reports. Searchers are in contact with some trapped survivors, Police Superintendent Russell Gibson said in a Television New Zealand interview. Some 80 percent of the city is without water, according to the New Zealand police website.

Water Shortages

With lines stretching three blocks, residents Paul and Anna McElroy gave up waiting for water earlier today at the Phillipstown school in a suburb southeast of the city’s business center. They later returned to fill as many containers as possible once lines shortened.

“Water is what we need,” said Paul, 42, as he loaded soda bottles of water into the car. “They need more of these places. There are only six or so and it’s a real logjam.”

The quake may be the costliest natural disaster for insurers since 2008. Insured losses from the temblor may be $12 billion, Michael Huttner, an analyst at JPMorgan, said in a note to clients. That would be the most expensive calamity since the $19.9 billion loss from Hurricane Ike, which struck the U.S. in 2008, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a New York-based trade group.

The New Zealand dollar rose from a two-month low on speculation markets are overpricing the probability of a rate cut by the Reserve Bank following the quake.

Currency Impact

The currency climbed 0.3 percent to 74.83 U.S. cents as of 5:55 p.m. in Sydney from 74.64 cents in New York yesterday. It fell to as low as 74.33 cents earlier, the weakest since Dec. 23. The so-called kiwi rose to 62.11 yen from 61.7 yen.

The cost of protecting New Zealand sovereign bonds from non-payment fell 1 basis point to 63.5 basis points as of 3:23 p.m. in Wellington, according to Deutsche Bank AG. They jumped 5 basis points yesterday, the biggest increase in almost three months.

The quake served as a reminder of the jolt in Christchurch on Sept. 4 that shook consumer confidence and contributed to a 0.2 percent drop in gross domestic product in the third quarter. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand estimates the September temblor caused NZ$5 billion ($3.7 billion) of damage.

“It’s going to delay the rate at which repair work on infrastructure proceeds,” Mark Binns, head of infrastructure at Fletcher Building Ltd., said in a Television New Zealand interview. “We’re going to have to look at resources from other parts of New Zealand and potentially offshore.”

The government selected Fletcher Building to manage Christchurch’s rebuilding following the Sept. 4 quake.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Bourke in Wellington at; Tracy Withers in Christchurch at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Iain Wilson at

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