2011 Christchurch earthquake

2011 Christchurch earthquake
February 2011 Christchurch earthquake

ChristChurch Cathedral and the Cathedral Square
2011 Christchurch earthquake is located in New Zealand

Quake epicentre
Date 22 February 2011 (2011-02-22), 12:51 pm NZDT
Magnitude 6.3 ML[1]
Depth 5 km (3.1 mi)
Epicenter 43°35′00″S 172°42′04″E / 43.5834°S 172.7012°E / -43.5834; 172.7012Coordinates: 43°35′00″S 172°42′04″E / 43.5834°S 172.7012°E / -43.5834; 172.7012
near Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand
Countries or regions New Zealand
Max. intensity MM IX[2]
Peak acceleration 1.88g (city); 2.2g (epicentre)[3]
Tsunami 3.5 m (11 ft) tsunami waves in Tasman Lake, following quake-triggered glacier calving from Tasman Glacier[4][5]
Landslides Sumner and Redcliffs
Casualties 181 deaths[6]
1500–2000 injuries, 164 serious[7]

The February 2011 Christchurch earthquake was a magnitude 6.3 (ML) earthquake[1] that struck the Canterbury region in New Zealand's South Island at 12:51 pm on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 local time (23:51 21 February UTC),[1][8] The earthquake was centred 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) west of the town of Lyttelton, and 10 kilometres (6 mi) south-east of the centre of Christchurch, New Zealand's second-most populous city.[1] It followed nearly six months after the magnitude 7.1 4 September 2010 Canterbury earthquake, which caused significant damage to Christchurch and the central Canterbury region, but no direct fatalities.

The earthquake caused widespread damage across Christchurch, especially in the central city and eastern suburbs, with damage exacerbated by buildings and infrastructure already being weakened by the 4 September 2010 earthquake and its aftershocks. Significant liquefaction affected the eastern suburbs, producing around 400,000 tonnes of silt. The earthquake was reported to be felt across the South Island and the lower and central North Island.

In total, 181 people were killed in the earthquake,[6] making the earthquake the second-deadliest natural disaster recorded in New Zealand (after the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake), and fourth-deadliest disaster of any kind recorded in New Zealand, with nationals from more than 20 countries among the victims.[9] Over half of the deaths occurred in the six-storey Canterbury Television (CTV) Building, which collapsed and caught fire in the quake. The government declared a state of national emergency, which stayed in force until 30 April 2011.[10]

It has been estimated that the total cost of rebuilding to insurers to be around NZ$20–30 billion,[11][12] making it by far New Zealand's costliest natural disaster, and the third-costliest earthquake (nominally) worldwide.[13]

The earthquake would ultimately be one of three major earthquakes in a year-long earthquake swarm affecting the Christchurch area, and was followed by a large aftershock on 13 June 2011, which caused considerable additional damage.



Earthquake intensity map

The 6.3 quake was part of a series of earthquakes and aftershocks in the region following the 7.1-magnitude 4 September 2010 Canterbury earthquake. While New Zealand's GNS Science describe it as "technically an aftershock" of the earlier event, other seismologists, including those from USA and Geoscience Australia, consider it a separate event, given its location on a separate fault system.[14][15] It occurred on a single faultline, which appears to have no underground connection to the four-part Greendale fault responsible for the September quake.[16] It has generated a significant series of its own aftershocks, many of which are considered big for a 6.3 quake.[17] 361+ aftershocks (3+ foreshocks incl) were experienced in the first week, the largest measuring magnitude 5.9, occurring just under 2 hours after the main shock.[18] A 5.3-magnitude aftershock on 16 April,[19] the largest for several weeks, caused further damage, including power cuts and several large rock falls.[20] Another aftershock hit the Christchurch region on 10 May 2011 from the Greendale fault measuring 5.3 magnitude. It cut power for a few minutes and caused further damage to buildings in the city centre. No deaths or injuries were reported. It was felt as far away as Dunedin and Greymouth.[21] On 6 June, a large aftershock occurred, measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale. The shake was felt as far away as Kaikoura and Oamaru.[20]

A series of aftershocks occurred on 13 June. A tremor of 5.7 was felt at 1 pm NZT, with depth of 9 km and an epicentre at Taylors Mistake,[22] followed by a 6.3 tremor just over an hour later, with a depth of 6 km, located 10 km east of the city.[23] Power was cut to around 54,000 homes, with further damage and liquefaction in already weakened areas. The Lyttelton Timeball Station collapsed[24] and Christchurch Cathedral sustained more damage. At least 46 people were reported injured.[25]

Initial reports suggest the earthquake occurred at a depth of 5 kilometres (3 mi); further analysis of seismic data might result in a revision of that depth.[17] Early reports suggested that it occurred on a previously unknown faultline running 17 km east-west from Scarborough Hill in South Eastern Christchurch to Halswell, at depths of 3–12 km,[26] but the Institute of Professional Engineers have since stated that "GNS Science believe that the earthquake arose from the rupture of an 8 x 8 km fault running east-northeast at a depth of 1–2 km depth beneath the southern edge of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary and dipping southwards at an angle of about 65 degrees from the horizontal beneath the Port Hills."[27] Although the rupture was subsurface (i.e. did not break the surface), satellite images indicate the net displacement of the land south of the fault was 50 cm westwards and upwards; the land movement would have been greater during the quake.[16] Land movement is varied around the area horizontally—in both east and west directions—and vertically; the Port Hills have been raised by 40 cm.[28]

Satellite picture showing shaking strength
(click to enlarge)

The quake was a "strike-slip event with oblique motion"—mostly horizontal movement with some vertical movement[29]—with reverse thrust (i.e. vertical movement upwards).[3] The vertical acceleration was far greater than the horizontal acceleration.[29] The intensity felt in Christchurch was MM VIII.[30] The peak ground acceleration (PGA) in central Christchurch exceeded 1.8g (i.e. 1.8 times the acceleration of gravity),[31] with the highest recording 2.2g, at Heathcote Valley Primary School,[3] a shaking intensity equivalent to MM X+.[32] This is the highest PGA ever recorded in New Zealand; the highest reading during the September 2010 event was 1.26g, recorded near Darfield.[31] The PGA is also one of the greatest ever ground accelerations recorded in the world,[33] and was unusually high for a 6.3 quake.[17] and the highest in a vertical direction.[34] The central business district (CBD) experienced PGAs in the range of 0.574 and 0.802 g.[35] In contrast, the 7.0 Mw 2010 Haiti earthquake had an estimated PGA of 0.5g.[33] The acceleration occurred mainly in a vertical direction,[29] with eyewitness accounts of people being tossed into the air.[33] The upwards (positive acceleration) was greater than the downwards, which had a maximum recording of 0.9g; the maximum recorded horizontal acceleration was 1.7g[34] The force of the quake was "statistically unlikely" to occur more than once in 1000 years, according to one seismic engineer, with a PGA greater than many modern buildings were designed to withstand.[36] New Zealand building codes require a building with a 50-year design life to withstand predicted loads of a 500-year event; initial reports by GNS Science suggest ground motion "considerably exceeded even 2500-year design motions",[37] beyond maximum considered events (MCE).[38] By comparison, the 2010 quake—in which damage was predominantly to pre-1970s buildings—exerted 65% of the design loading on buildings.[36] The acceleration experienced in February 2011 would "totally flatten" most world cities, causing massive loss of life; in Christchurch, New Zealand's stringent building codes limited the disaster.[15] However, the most severe shaking lasted only 12 seconds, which perhaps prevented more extensive damage.[38]

It is also likely that "seismic lensing" contributed to the ground effect, with the seismic waves rebounding off the hard basalt of the Port Hills back into the city.[26] Geologists reported liquefaction was worse than the 2010 quake.[29] The quake also caused significant landslips and rockfalls on the Port Hills.[29]

Although smaller in magnitude than the 2010 quake, the earthquake was more damaging and deadly for a number of reasons. The epicentre was closer to Christchurch, and shallower at 5 kilometres (3 mi) underground, whereas the September quake was measured at 10 kilometres (6 mi) deep. The February earthquake occurred during lunchtime on a weekday when the CBD was busy, and many buildings were already weakened from the previous quakes.[39][40] The PGA was extremely high, and simultaneous vertical and horizontal ground movement was "almost impossible" for buildings to survive intact.[29] Liquefaction was significantly greater than that of the 2010 quake, causing the upwelling of more than 200,000 tonnes of silt[41][42] which needed to be cleared. The increased liquefaction caused significant ground movement, undermining many foundations and destroying infrastructure, damage which "may be the greatest ever recorded anywhere in a modern city".[27] 80% of the water and sewerage system was severely damaged.[38]

While both the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes occurred on "blind" or unknown faults, New Zealand's Earthquake Commission had, in a 1991 report, predicted moderate earthquakes in Canterbury with the likelihood of associated liquefaction.[15][43]

According to GNS Science seismologists, the energy released in Christchurch was equivalent to a magnitude 6.7 earthquake.[44]

On 13 June 2011, two major aftershocks measuring 5.7 and 6.3 struck the region, causing further damage, liquefaction and 10 injuries in and around Christchurch.[45] These were followed by a magnitude 5.4 quake at a depth of 8 km and centred 10 km south-west of Christchurch at 10:34 pm on 21 June 2011.[46]

Main aftershocks since 22 February 2011

Below is a list of all aftershocks of richter magnitude 5.0 and above that have hit Christchurch since the 22 February 2011 earthquake.[47]

Date Time Magnitude Moment Magnitude Epicentre Depth
22 February 2011 12:51 pm 6.3 6.2 10 km South-east of Christchurch 5.9 km
22 February 2011 1:04 pm 5.8 5.6 10 km South of Christchurch 5.9 km
22 February 2011 2:50 pm 5.9 5.6 Within 5 km of Lyttelton 6.72 km
22 February 2011 2:51 pm 5.1 4.4 Within 5 km of Lyttelton 7.3 km
22 February 2011 4:04 pm 5.0 4.4 Within 5 km of Christchurch 12.0 km
22 February 2011 7:43 pm 5.0 4.5 20 km South-east of Christchurch 12.0 km
5 March 2011 7:34 pm 5.0 4.5 10 km South-east of Christchurch 9.5 km
20 March 2011 9:47 pm 5.1 4.9 10 km East of Christchurch 11.83 km
16 April 2011 5:49 pm 5.3 4.9 20 km South-east of Christchurch 10.6 km
30 April 2011 7:04 am 5.2 4.6 60 km North-east of Christchurch 8.7 km
10 May 2011 3:04 am 5.3 5.2 20 km West of Christchurch 14.4 km
6 June 2011 9:09 am 5.5 5.1 20 km South-west of Christchurch 8.1 km
13 June 2011 1:00 pm 5.7 5.3 10 km East of Christchurch 9.2 km
13 June 2011 2:20 pm 6.3 6.0 10 km South-east of Christchurch 6.1 km
15 June 2011 6:27 am 5.0 4.8 20 km South-east of Christchurch 6.1 km
21 June 2011 10:34 pm 5.4 5.2 10 km South-west of Christchurch 8.3 km
22 July 2011 5:39 am 5.1 4.7 40 km West of Christchurch 12 km
2 September 2011 3:29 am 5.0 4.5 10 km East of Lyttelton 7.6 km
9 October 2011 8:34 pm 5.5 5.1 10 km North-East of Diamond Harbour 12.0 km

Emergency management

In the immediate moments following the quake, rescue and response was offered by ordinary citizens and those emergency services on duty. Although communication was initially difficult, and it took many hours for a full picture of the devastation to be obtained, a full emergency management structure was in place within two hours, with national coordination operated from the National Crisis Management Centre bunker in the Beehive in Wellington.[48] Regional emergency operations command was established in the Christchurch Art Gallery, a modern earthquake-proofed building in the centre of the city which had sustained only minor damage.[49] On 23 February the Minister of Civil Defence, John Carter declared the situation a state of national emergency,[50] the country's first for a civil defence emergency (the only other one was for the 1951 waterfront dispute).[51] As per the protocols of New Zealand's Coordinated Incident Management System and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, the Civil Defence became lead agency—with Air Vice Marshal John Hamilton as National Controller—supported by New Zealand Police, Fire Service, Defence Force and many other agencies and organisations.[52] One experienced international USAR team member described the response as "the best-organised emergency" he had witnessed.[53]

The Government response was immediate and significant, with many departments and ministries involved. Cabinet Minister Gerry Brownlee's regular portfolios were distributed amongst other cabinet ministers, so he could focus solely on earthquake recovery.[54] After a brief sitting, when a National Emergency was declared, Parliament was adjourned until 8 March so cabinet could work on earthquake recovery.[55] Prime Minister John Key and other ministers regularly visited Christchurch, supporting Christchurch mayor Bob Parker, who was heavily involved in the emergency management and became the face of the city, despite his own injuries and family concerns.[56]

Both COGIC (French Civil Protection)[57] and the American USGS requested the activation of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters on the behalf of MCDEM New Zealand, thus readily providing satellite imagery for aid and rescue services.[58]


Christchurch Police were supplemented by staff and resources from around the country, along with a 300-strong contingent of Australian Police, who were sworn in as New Zealand Police on their arrival, bringing the total officers in the city to 1200.[59] Alongside regular duties, the police provided security cordons, organised evacuations, supported search and rescue teams, missing persons and family liaison, and organised media briefings and tours of the affected areas. They also provided forensic analysis and evidence gathering at fatalities and Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) teams, working closely with pathologists, forensic dentists and scientists, and the coroner at the emergency mortuary established at Burnham Military Camp.[60] They were aided by DVI teams from Australia, UK, Thailand[61] Taiwan and Israel.[60] They follow international best practice for victim identification after disasters—which is extremely thorough to ensure correct identification—and have assistance from the Interpol DVI chair.[62][63]

New Zealand Police requested 300 police from Australia for non-rescue tasks such as traffic control, general policing duties and to prevent looting. The contingent was formed by 200 from the New South Wales Police Force,[64] 50 from the Australian Federal Police[65] and others from Queensland, Victoria and South Australia state police forces.[66] In total, 323 Australian police, including DVI officers, were sent.[67][68] Following their arrival on 25 February, they were briefed on New Zealand law and procedure and the emergency regulations before being sworn in as temporary constables, giving them complete New Zealand policing powers.[66][69] Many of them received standing ovations from appreciative locals as they walked through Christchurch Airport upon arrival.[70] The first contingent remained in New Zealand for two weeks, after which they were replaced by a further contingent.[69] While serving in New Zealand, the Australian officers would not carry guns, since New Zealand police are a routinely unarmed force; the officers would instead be equipped with standard New Zealand issue batons and capsicum spray.[70][71] It was the first time in 170 years that Australian police have patrolled in New Zealand.[69] Following a rotation of staff, police were present from all Australian states and territories as well as Federal Police, the first time representatives from all Australian forces have worked together on a single operation.[72]

Search and rescue

A Japanese search and rescue team approaches the ruins of the CTV building.

The New Zealand Fire Service coordinated search and rescue, particularly the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams from New Zealand and Australia, UK, USA, Japan, Taiwan, China and Singapore, totalling 150 personnel from New Zealand and 429 from overseas.[53] They also responded to fires, serious structural damage reports, and land slips working with structural engineers, seismologists and geologists, as well as construction workers, crane and digger operators and demolition experts.

A team of 72 urban search and rescue specialists from New South Wales, Australia was sent to Christchurch on a RAAF C-130 Hercules, arriving 12 hours after the quake, with another team of 70 (along with three sniffer dogs) from Queensland sent the following day.[73] A team of 55 Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team members from the Singapore Civil Defence Force were sent.[74] The United States sent Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force 2, a 74-member heavy rescue team consisting of firefighters and paramedics from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, doctors, engineers and 26 tons of pre-packaged rescue equipment.[75][76] Japan sent 70 search-and-rescue personnel including specialists from the coastguard, police and fire fighting service, as well as three sniffer dogs.[77] The team left New Zealand earlier than planned due to the 9.0 earthquake which struck their homeland on 11 March.[78] The United Kingdom sent a 53 strong search and rescue team including 9 Welsh firefighters who had assisted the rescue effort during the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.[79] Taiwan sent a 22-member team from the National Fire Agency, along with 2 tons of specialist search and rescue equipment.[80][81] China sent a 10-member specialist rescue team.[82]

Defence forces

The New Zealand Defence Force—staging their largest operation on New Zealand soil[83]— provided logistics, equipment, transport, airbridges, evacuations, supply and equipment shipments, survey of the Port and harbour, and support to the agencies, including meals; they assisted the Police with security, and provided humanitarian aid particularly to Lyttleton, which was isolated from the city in the first days.[84] Over 1400 Army, Navy and Air Force personnel were involved,[85] and Territorials (Army Reserve) were called up.[86] They were supplemented by 116 soldiers from the Singapore Army, in Christchurch for a training exercise at the time of the earthquake, who assisted in the cordon of the city.[74][87]

HMNZS Canterbury provided aid to Lyttelton residents isolated by the quake.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force provided an air bridge between Christchurch and Wellington using a Boeing 757 and two C-130 Hercules,and bringing in emergency crews and equipment and evacuating North Island residents and tourists out of Christchurch. Three RNZAF Bell UH-1 'Hueys' were also used to transport Police, VIP's and aid to locations around Christchurch. RNZAF Beech King Air aircraft were also used to evacuate people from Christchurch. The crew of the Navy ship Canterbury, in Lyttelton harbour at the time of the earthquake, provided meals for 1,000 people left homeless in that town,[88] and accommodation for a small number of locals.[89] The Royal Australian Air Force also assisted with air lifts. On one of their journeys, an RAAF Hercules sustained minor damage in an aftershock.[90]

The army also operated desalination plants to provide water to the eastern suburbs.[91]

Medical response

St John Ambulance provided and coordinated emergency medical response, and triage stations immediately following the quake, as well as medics to support USAR teams. The Canterbury District Health Board coordinated health and medical support across the city, cancelling elective surgery and outpatients, and evacuating existing patients from the hospitals to other centres to increase capacity. They managed primary care facilities (pharmacies and general practice) to ensure city-wide coverage, and organised evacuations from damaged aged care and disabled care facilities to other regions. They were supported by medical staff from around New Zealand, and Australia, particularly the Australian field hospital brought in within days. Public Health issues (such as contamination and infection control) were also managed by the Health Board.

Australia's foreign minister Kevin Rudd told Sky News that New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully had asked for further help from Australia. He said Australia would send counsellors over and a disaster medical assistance team comprising 23 emergency and surgical personnel.[92] A field hospital providing 75 beds arrived 24 February.[73] Set up in the badly affected eastern suburbs, it was equipped to provide triage, emergency care, maternity, dentistry and isolation tents for gastroenteritis, and also provide primary care since most general practices in the area were unable to open.[93]

Humanitarian and welfare

Humanitarian support and welfare were provided by various agencies, in particular the New Zealand Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Welfare Centres and support networks were established throughout the city. Government Departments, such as WINZ and Housing New Zealand established contact with as many people as possible and provided grants and assistance. Many church and community-led projects also became established. The scale of the disaster meant many people went some days without official contact, so neighbourhoods and streets were encouraged to attend to those around them. Official visitation teams were organised by Civil Defence, with aim of visiting every household; the teams, which assessed homes and welfare needs, and passed on official information, included structural engineers or assessors from EQC. LandSAR assisted with the patrols.[94]

Workers try to restore water service

Infrastructure and support

Businesses and organisations contributed massively to the initial rescue, recovery and emergency infrastructure. Orion, Christchurch's electricity distribution lines company, assisted by other lines companies from New Zealand, worked constantly to restore power. This included the erection of a new 66 kV overhead line between Bromley and New Brighton to get power into the eastern suburbs, a project which would usually take six or seven weeks but was completed in 2½ days, with the resource consent process taking only 20 minutes.[95] Power had been restored to 82% households within five days,[96] and to 95% within two weeks.[97] Generators were donated, and telephone companies established emergency communications and free calls. Water provision was worked on by companies and contractors, while Fonterra provided milk tankers to bring in water, the Army provided desalination plants, and bottled supplies sent in by volunteers and companies. Mains water supply was reestablished to 70% households within one week.[98] Waste water and sewerage systems had been severely damaged, so households had to establish emergency latrines. Over 2000 portaloos and 5,000 chemical toilets from throughout New Zealand and overseas were brought in, with 20,000 more chemical toilets placed on order from the manufacturers.[97] Community laundries were set up in affected suburbs by Fisher and Paykel[99] and individuals. Portable shower units were also established in the eastern suburbs.[97]

Many companies assisted with transport, particularly Air New Zealand, who operated extra flights of Boeing 747 aircraft to/from Auckland and Boeing 737/Airbus A320/Boeing 777 aircraft to/from Wellington to move people and supplies in and out of Christchurch. The airline also offered flights to and from Christchurch for NZ$ 50 one way from any New Zealand, Australian and Pacific Island Airport, for Christchurch residents, and NZ$400 one way from other international destinations for affected family members.[100]

Fundraising and support efforts were established throughout the country, with many individuals, community groups and companies providing food and services to the city, for welfare and clean up. Many impromptu initiatives gained significant traction. Thousands of people helped with the clean-up efforts—involving the removal of over 200,000 tonnes of liquefaction silt—including Canterbury University's Student Volunteer Army (created after the September quake but significantly enlarged) and the Federated Farmers' "Farmy Army".[101] The "Rangiora Earthquake Express" provided over 250 tonnes of water, medical supplies, and food, including hot meals, from nearby Rangiora by helicopter and truck.[102]

Casualties, damage, and other effects

The effect of liquefaction in North New Brighton, Christchurch

As of 3 May, the New Zealand Police believed 181 people had died as a result of the earthquake, while another four deaths that may have been due to the earthquake had been referred to the coroner.[6] Of the 181 victims, 172 have been formally identified.[6] More than 100 people were lost in the Canterbury Television building alone.[103] Due to the injuries sustained by some individuals, it is possible some bodies might remain unidentified.[104] Between 1,500 and 2,000 people have been treated for minor injuries, and Christchurch Hospital alone has treated 220 major trauma cases connected to the quake.[105]

Results of liquefaction. The fine washed-up sand solidifies after the water has run off.

Rescue efforts continued for over a week, then shifted into recovery mode. The last survivor was pulled from the rubble the day after the quake.[106]

At 5 pm local time on the day of the earthquake, Radio New Zealand reported that 80% of the city had no power. Water and wastewater services have been disrupted throughout the city, with authorities urging residents to conserve water and collect rainwater. It is expected that the State of Emergency Level 3, the highest possible in a regional disaster, would last for at least five days. Medical staff from the army were deployed.

Road and bridge damage occurred and hampered rescue efforts.[107] Soil liquefaction and surface flooding also occurred.[108] Road surfaces were forced up by liquefaction, and water and sand were spewing out of cracks.[109] A number of cars were crushed by falling debris.[110] In the central city, two buses were crushed by falling buildings.[111] As the earthquake hit at the lunch hour, some people on the pavements were buried by collapsed buildings.[112]


As of 7 April 2011, New Zealand Police had formally identified and released the names of 172 of the deceased. In the list are people from fifteen different nationalities, including New Zealand, and the ages of the victims range from 5 weeks to 87 years.[6]

The nationalities of the deceased are:-[6]

Country Casualties
 New Zealand
Waimakariri & Selwyn
– Other/Unknown
 Japan 28[113]
 China 23
 Philippines 9
 Thailand 6
 Israel 3
 South Korea 2
 Republic of China (Taiwan)
 United States
1 each
Total 176

Animal casualties

Animal welfare agencies reported that many pets were lost or distressed following the earthquake.[115][116] SPCA rescue manager Blair Hillyard said his 12-strong team assisted urban search and rescue teams that encountered aggressive dogs while conducting house-to-house checks. The team also worked with animals in areas where humans had been evacuated and distributed animal food and veterinary supplies to families in need.

Hillyard said that the situation for animals had been "deteriorating because of time issues" and was forcing concerned animal owners to break through police cordons to search for their pets. "That is really one of the common problems of why people break the cordon. It's not to go and do burglaries ... it's to go and retrieve their pets."[117]

Buildings affected

94 bodies were recovered from the CTV Building, which collapsed during the quake.

Of the 3,000 buildings inspected within the Four Avenues of the central city by 3 March, 45% had been given red or yellow stickers to restrict access because of the safety problems. Many heritage buildings were given red stickers after inspections.[118] One thousand of the 4000 buildings within the Four Avenues were expected to be demolished.[119]

ChristChurch Cathedral lost its spire.[120][121] The spire's tip had also fallen in earthquakes in 1888 and 1901,[122] but much more fell during the 22 February earthquake. Although police initially believed up to 22 people died in the collapse of the cathedral's tower, a thorough search of the rubble confirmed no fatalities occurred there.[123][124]

Christchurch Hospital was partly evacuated due to damage in some areas,[125] but remained open throughout to treat the injured. The New Zealand defence forces were called in to assist in evacuating the central business district.[126]

The six-storey Canterbury Television (CTV) building collapsed leaving only its lift shaft standing, which caught fire. The building housed the TV station, a medical clinic and an English language school. The school—King's Education—catered to students from Japan, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and Korea.[127] On 23 February police decided that the damage was not survivable, and rescue efforts at the building were suspended. Initially more than 100 people were believed have died in the building. Fire-fighting and recovery operations resumed that night,[128] later joined by a Japanese search and rescue squad. Thirteen Japanese students from the Toyama College of Foreign Languages are missing, with some feared trapped in the rubble.[129][130] Of the 166 confirmed dead by 12 March 2011, 94 were recovered from the CTV building.[131][132]

PGC House, following the February 2011 quake

The four-storey PGC House[133] on Cambridge Terrace, headquarters of Pyne Gould Corporation, collapsed, and thirty of the building's two hundred workers were still believed to be trapped within as night fell. On Wednesday morning, 22 hours after the quake, a survivor was pulled from the rubble.[134] The reinforced concrete building had been constructed in 1963–1964.[135]

The Forsyth Barr building survived the earthquake structurally, but many occupants were trapped after the collapse of the stairwells, forcing some to abseil out after the quake.[136] Search of the building was technically difficult for USAR teams, requiring the deconstruction of 4-tonne stair sets, but the building was cleared with no victims discovered.[137]

The Grand Chancellor will be demolished

On 23 February, Hotel Grand Chancellor, Christchurch's tallest hotel, was reported to be on the verge of collapse.[138] The 26-storey building was displaced by half a metre in the quake and had dropped by 1 metre on one side; parts of the emergency stairwells collapsed.[136] The building was thought to be irreparably damaged and have the potential to bring down other buildings if it falls; an area of a two-block radius around the hotel was thus evacuated.[139][140] The building was eventually stabilised and, on 4 March it was decided the building would be demolished over the following six months,[141] so that further work could be done with the buildings nearby.[142] The 21-storey PricewaterhouseCoopers building, the city's tallest office tower, is among the office buildings to be demolished.[143]

Oxford Terrace Baptist Church was one of many churches damaged by the quake

The historic Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings were severely damaged, with the Stone Chamber completely collapsing.[40][144]

Our City, the second civic offices of Christchurch City Council, was already damaged in the September earthquake and is heavily braced following the February event. The Civic, the council's third home, was heavily damaged in February and is due to be demolished.[145] Both buildings are on the register of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.[146][147]

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament was also severely damaged, with the towers falling. A decision was made to remove the dome because the supporting structure was weakened, although at 30 March the eventual fate of the overall building remained uncertain.[148][149][150] Several other churches have been seriously damaged, including: Knox Presbyterian Church, St Luke's Anglican Church, Durham Street Methodist Church, St Paul's-Trinity-Pacific Presbyterian Church, Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, Holy Trinity Avonside and Holy Trinity, Lyttelton. Sydenham Heritage Church and the Beckenham Baptist Church were heavily damaged, and then demolished days after the earthquake.[151] Concrete block construction fared badly, leaving many modern iconic buildings damaged.[152]

Carlton Hotel, a listed heritage building, was undergoing repairs from September 2010 earthquake damage when the February 2011 earthquake damaged the building further. It was deemed unstable and demolished in April 2011.[153] St Elmo Courts has been damaged in the September 2010 earthquake and the owner intended to repair the building, but further damage caused by the February 2011 event resulted in a decision to demolish, which was done the following month.[154]

While damage occurred to many older buildings, particularly those with unreinforced masonry and those built before stringent earthquakes codes were introduced, high rises built within the past twenty to thirty years performed well.[155] On 28 February 2011, the Prime Minister announced that there would be an inquiry into the collapse of buildings that had been signed off as safe after the 4 September earthquake, "to provide answers to people about why so many people lost their lives."[156][157]


On 7 March, Prime Minister John Key said that around 10,000 houses would need to be demolished, and liquefaction damage meant that some parts of Christchurch could not be rebuilt on.[158]


Buildings in Lyttelton sustained widespread damage, with a fire officer reporting that 60% of the buildings in the main street had been severely damaged.[159] No lives were believed to be lost in the town,[160] but two people died on local walking tracks after being hit by rockfalls.[161] The town's historic Timeball Station was extensively damaged, adding to damage from the preceding earthquake in September 2010. The New Zealand Historic Places Trust is planning to dismantle it, with the possibility of reconstruction.[162] The tower later collapsed during an aftershock on 13 June 2011.[163]

54 Raekura Place in Redcliffs was destroyed by rockfall.

Landslides occurred in Sumner, crushing buildings.[164][165] Parts of Sumner were evacuated during the night of 22 February after cracks were noticed on a nearby hillside.[166] Three deaths were reported in the Sumner area, according to the Sumner Chief Fire Officer.[167] The Shag Rock, a notable landmark, was reduced to half of its former height.[168]


In contrast to the September 2010 earthquake, Redcliffs and the surrounding hills suffered severe damage. The cliff behind Redcliffs School collapsed on to the houses below.[169] Large boulders were found on the lawns of damaged houses.[170]

Twelve streets in Redcliffs were evacuated on Thursday night (24 February) after some cliffs and hills surrounding Redcliffs were deemed unstable.[171] However, the cordon actually in place the following morning only included parts of six streets, so many residents outside the reduced cordon returned home immediately. The remaining cordon was removed twelve days later.[172]

Beyond Christchurch

The quake was felt as far north as Tauranga[173] and as far south as Invercargill, where the 111 emergency network was rendered out of service.[174] The earthquake may have been felt at Scott Base.[175]

Satellite image showing icebergs calved from Tasman Glacier by earthquake

At the Tasman Glacier some 200 kilometres (120 mi) from the epicentre, around 30 million tonnes (33 ST) of ice tumbled off the glacier into Tasman Lake, hitting tour boats with tsunami waves 3.5 metres (11 ft) high.[176]

By the evening of 22 February, KiwiRail reported that the TranzAlpine service was terminating at Greymouth and the TranzCoastal terminating at Picton.[108] The TranzAlpine was cancelled until 4 March, to allow for personnel resources to be transferred to repairing track and related infrastructure, and moving essential freight into Christchurch, while the TranzCoastal has been cancelled until mid-August.[177] KiwiRail also delayed the 14 March departure of its Interislander ferry Aratere to Singapore for a 30-metre extension and refit prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. With extra passenger and freight movements over Cook Strait following the earthquake, the company would have been unable to cope with just two ships operating on a reduced schedule so soon after the earthquake, so pushed back the departure to the end of April.[178]

New Zealand and American research operations in Antarctica have been badly affected by the earthquake, which occurred close to the end of the summer season. Christchurch acts as the major supply and transportation base for both Scott Base and McMurdo Sound research stations, and would normally be the initial destination for scientists returning from the summer season (the bases operate with reduced numbers in the dark Antarctic winter). The problems are exacerbated by the unusual break-up of sheet ice which is normally used for runways in the Antarctic.[179] Several researchers linked to US Antarctic Research are among those missing in Christchurch as a result of the earthquake.[180]

Christchurch International Airport

An Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200ER at Wellington International Airport carrying quake evacuees.

Christchurch International Airport is located 12 km (7 mi) northwest of the city centre and was largely unaffected by the earthquake. Flight crews from the U.S. Air National Guard were at the airport, making preparations to return to America, when the quake struck and reported to their Air Wing commander that they were safe and unharmed, and that the airport had water and electricity.[181] 26 members of the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing are currently deployed to the airport, in support of "Operation Deep Freeze" (the U.S. Air Force's military support to U.S. research operations in Antarctica).

The Christchurch-based national air traffic control organisation, Airways New Zealand, closed New Zealand airspace for a short time while they inspected their facilities.[182] Christchurch International Airport was closed to all but military and emergency traffic.[183]


New Zealand Cricket's offices were damaged by the earthquake.[184] Some matches needed to be rescheduled.[185][186]

The Super Rugby Round 2 match between the Crusaders and Hurricanes scheduled for 26 February 2011 at Westpac Stadium in Wellington was abandoned by agreement of both sides and SANZAR due to the earthquake. The match was declared a draw, with both sides earning 2 competition points.[187] The Crusaders' first two home matches of the season, originally to be played in Christchurch, were moved to Trafalgar Park in Nelson.[188] Ultimately, the Crusaders were forced to play their entire home schedule away from Christchurch,[189] including one game against the Sharks moved to Twickenham in London[190] and the return match against the Hurricanes moved to Westpac Stadium.[191]

In the ANZ Netball Championship, the earthquake caused significant damage to the Canterbury Tactix's main home venue, CBS Canterbury Arena, and the franchise's head office at Queen Elizabeth II Park.[192] The team's round 3 match against the Northern Mystics in Auckland was postponed,[192] while their round 4 home match against the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic was moved to the Energy Events Centre in Rotorua.[193]

AMI Stadium was going to host the rugby league ANZAC Test; however, on 4 March it was announced the match would be moved to Skilled Park on the Gold Coast.[194][195] The 2012 match is now tentatively scheduled to be hosted by AMI Stadium; however, Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder stated during the 2011 Super Rugby finals that discussions were ongoing regarding the future of the stadium, and that there was a possibility that the venue may be completely written off.[189] The Canterbury Rugby League cancelled their pre-season competition.[196] The CRL's headquarters, Rugby League Park, was damaged during the earthquake and is currently closed.[197]

Christchurch was set to host five pool matches and two quarter finals of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. However, damage to AMI Stadium, as well as infrastructure, hotels and training grounds put this in doubt. The International Rugby Board and the New Zealand Rugby World Cup organisers quickly confirmed all matches will still be held in New Zealand, but required structural reports and assessments of Christchurch facilities before deciding whether the games could go ahead in Christchurch.[198][199] An announcement was made on 16 March that the city would be unable to host the cup matches; the quarter finals would be moved to Auckland, while other South Island locations would be considered for the pool games.[200]


RNZAF aerial survey of damage, showing flooding due to soil liquefaction in Christchurch

On the day of the quake, Prime Minister John Key said that 22 February "may well be New Zealand's darkest day",[201] and Mayor of Christchurch Bob Parker warned that New Zealanders are "going to be presented with statistics that are going to be bleak".[202] Key added that "All Civil Defence procedures have now been activated; the Civil Defence bunker at parliament is in operation here in Wellington."[203] The New Zealand Red Cross launched an appeal to raise funds to help victims.[204]

The Queen said she was "utterly shocked" and her "thoughts were with all those affected".[205] Her son and heir to the New Zealand throne, The Prince of Wales, also said to New Zealand's governor-general and prime minister: "My wife and I were horrified when we heard the news early this morning... The scale of the destruction all but defies belief when we can appreciate only too well how difficult it must have been struggling to come to terms with last year's horror ... Our deepest sympathy and constant thoughts are with you and all New Zealanders."[206] Other members of the Royal Family signed the condolence book at New Zealand House in London.[207][208]


"I know that [Australians'] thoughts are with the people of New Zealand as they grapple with this enormous tragedy in Christchurch. ... We will be doing everything we can to work with our New Zealand family, with Prime Minister Key and his emergency services personnel, his military officers, his medical people, his search and rescue teams. We will be working alongside them to give as much relief and assistance to New Zealand as we possibly can."

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the earthquake.[209]

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered John Key any assistance he may request.[210] The Australian Government has also pledged A$5 million (NZ$6.7 million[211]) to the Red Cross Appeal.[73] On the 1 March, it was announced that the New South Wales Government would be donating A$1 million (NZ$1.3 million[211]) to the victims of the Christchurch Earthquake.[212]

The UN and the European Union offered assistance.[213] Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary-General, sent a message of support to the Prime Minister and stated "our heart and condolences go immediately to the bereaved." He added that the "thoughts and prayers" of the Commonwealth were with the citizens of New Zealand, and Christchurch especially.[214]

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper released a statement saying: "The thoughts and prayers of Canadians are with all those affected by the earthquake. Canada is standing by to offer any possible assistance to New Zealand in responding to this natural disaster."[215][216]

David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, issued a statement as well as his texting his fellow Commonwealth prime ministers. In his formal statement, he commented that the loss of life was "dreadful" and the "thoughts and prayers of the British people were with them".[217]

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, issued a statement on behalf of the UN expressing his "deep sadness" and stressed the "readiness of the United Nations to contribute to its efforts in any way needed".[214]

China gave US$500,000 to the earthquake appeal, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed his deep condolences to New Zealand.[218] Twenty Chinese students were reported missing following the quake.[219]

Barack Obama, President of the United States, issued a statement from the White House Press Office on the disaster by way of an official announcement that "On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to the people of New Zealand and to the families and friends of the victims in Christchurch, which has suffered its second major earthquake in just six months... As our New Zealand friends move forward, may they find some comfort and strength in knowing that they will have the enduring friendship and support of many partners around the world, including the United States." The President also made a call to Prime Minister Key.[220]

Pope Benedict XVI issued an announcement on the earthquake in a statement during his Wednesday audience on 23 February, stating that he was praying for the dead and the injured victims of the devastating earthquake, and encouraging those involved in the rescue efforts.[214]

Fundraising and charity events

Various sporting events were set up to raise money for those affected, such as the "Fill the Basin" cricket match at the Basin Reserve, featuring ex-New Zealand internationals, All Blacks and actors from The Hobbit, which raised more than $500,000.[221]

New Zealand cricket team captain Daniel Vettori put his personal memorabilia up for auction.[222]

All Black Sonny Bill Williams and Sky both made large donations from Williams' fourth boxing bout which was dubbed "The Clash For Canterbury".[223][224][225]

Numerous musical concerts have been performed, both in New Zealand and overseas, to raise money for the affected. Notable events of this nature include a previously unscheduled visit to New Zealand by American rock group Foo Fighters, who performed a Christchurch benefit concert in Auckland on 22 March 2011.

Memorial services

A national memorial service was held on 18 March at North Hagley Park, coinciding with a one-off provincial holiday for Canterbury, which required the passing of the Canterbury Earthquake Commemoration Day Act 2011 to legislate.[226] Prince William, making a two-day trip to the country to tour the areas affected by the earthquake,[227] attended on the Queen's behalf and made an address during the service.[228] New Zealand's governor-general, Sir Anand Satyanand, attended, along with John Key, Bob Parker, and a number of local and international dignitaries.[229] Australia's official delegation included Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.[230]

Commission of Inquiry

On 14 March, Prime Minister John Key announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry would be held into the earthquake devastation, covering the building collapses and consequent loss of life, damage to key buildings, and general building standards and codes. It would complement the investigations by the Department of Building and Housing. The commission would be chaired by High Court judge Mark Cooper, for a report back in twelve months; a preliminary report would be required in six months.[231]


Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority

On 29 March 2011, John Key and Bob Parker announced the creation of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), which would lead the earthquake recovery, cooperating with the government, local councils and residents, under chief executive John Ombler. Anticipated to last five years, the authority's operations would be reviewed annually.[232]


Temporary housing in Linwood Park

With an estimated 10,000 houses requiring demolition and over 100,000 damaged,[233] plans were developed for moderate-term temporary housing. Approximately 450 fully serviced mobile homes would be located on sites across the city including Canterbury Agricultural Park and Riccarton Racecourse. The Department of Building and Housing also released a plan for the construction of 500 modular homes.[234] While emergency repairs were performed on damaged houses by Fletcher Construction, rebuilding would be delayed by the need for full land assessments, with the possibility that some of the worst-affected areas in the eastern suburbs might need to be abandoned due to land depression and severe liquefaction, with the residents offered relocation to new subdivisions under their EQC insurance policies.[235]

Schools and universities

Canterbury University partially reopened on 14 March, with many lectures held in tents and marquees while work was carried out on university buildings.[236] All courses expected to resume by 28 March, with plans for the April break to be shortened by two weeks to make up for lost time.[237]

163 primary and secondary schools were affected by the earthquake, most of which were closed for three weeks; 90 had full structural clearance and were able to reopen, 24 had reports indicating further assessment and 11 were seriously damaged. Site-sharing plans were made to enable affected schools to relocate, while 9 "learning hubs" were established throughout the city to provide resources and support for students needing to work from home.[238][239] Some students relocated to other centres – by 5 March, a total of 4879 Christchurch students had enrolled in other schools across New Zealand. Wanaka Primary School alone had received 115 new enrolments as Christchurch families moved to their holiday homes in the town.[240]

Due to the extensive damage of a number of secondary schools, many were forced to share with others, allowing one school to use the ground in the morning and the other in the afternoon. This included Shirley Boys High School sharing with Papanui High School,[241] Linwood College sharing with Cashmere High School[242] and Avonside Girls High School sharing with Burnside High School.[243] Linwood College and Shirley Boys' High School moved back to their original sites on 1 August (the first day of Term 3), and 13 September 2011 respectively.[244][245] Avonside Girls' High School is not expected to be back on its original site until the start of the 2012 school year in early February.

Economic impact

New Zealand Finance Minister, Bill English, advised that the effects of the 2011 quake were likely to be more costly than the September 2010 quake. His advice was that the 2011 earthquake was a "new event" and that EQC's reinsurance cover was already in place after the previous 2010 event. New Zealand's Earthquake Commission (EQC), a government organisation, levies policyholders to cover a major part of the earthquake risk. The EQC further limits its own risk by taking out cover with a number of large reinsurance companies, for example Munich Re.

The EQC pays out the first NZ$1.5 billion in claims, and the reinsurance companies are liable for all amounts between NZ$1.5 billion and NZ$4 billion. The EQC again covers all amounts above NZ$4 billion. EQC chief executive Ian Simpson said that the $4 billion cap for each earthquake is unlikely to be exceeded by the costs of residential building and land repairs, so $3 billion would be left in the EQC's Natural Disaster Fund after payouts.[246][247][248]

Claims from the 2010 shock were estimated at NZ$2.75–3.5 billion. Prior to the 2010 quake, the EQC had a fund of NZ$5.93 billion according to the EQC 2010 Annual Report, with NZ$4.43 billion left prior to the 2011 quake, after taking off the NZ$1.5 billion cost.[249]

EQC cover for domestic premises entitles the holder to up to NZ$100,000 plus tax (GST) for each dwelling, with any further amount above that being paid by the policyholder's insurance company. For personal effects, EQC pays out the first NZ$20,000 plus tax. It also covers land damage within 8 metres of a home; this coverage is uncapped.[246]

Commercial properties are not insured by the EQC, but by private insurance companies. These insurers underwrite their commercial losses to reinsurers, who will again bear the brunt of these claims. JPMorgan Chase & Co say the total overall losses related to this earthquake may be US$12 billion. That would make it the third most costly earthquake event in history, after the 2011 Japan and 1994 California earthquakes.[12][13]

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee echoed that fewer claims were expected through the EQC than for 2010. In the 2010 earthquake, 180,000 claims were processed as opposed to the expected 130,000 claims for the 2011 aftershock. The total number of claims for the two events was expected to be 250,000, as Brownlee explained that many of the claims were "overlapping".[250][251]

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) announced it would be the largest single event they had paid out for, with an estimated 7,500 injury claims costing over $200 million.[252]

On 2 March, John Key said he expected an interest rate cut to deal with the earthquake. The reaction to the statement sent the New Zealand dollar down.[253]

Cancellation of 2011 census

The Chief Executive of Statistics New Zealand, Geoff Bascand, announced on 25 February that the national census planned for 8 March 2011 would not take place due to the disruption and displacement of people in the Canterbury region, and also the damage sustained by Statistics New Zealand's buildings in Christchurch, which was scheduled to process much of the census. The cancellation required an amendment to the Statistics Act 1975, which legally requires a census to be taken in 2011, and a revocation by The Queen. It is the third time the census has been cancelled in New Zealand; the other occasions occurred in 1931, due to the Great Depression, and in 1941 due to World War II. Most of the NZ$90 million cost of the census has been written off.[254][255] The census will now take place in March 2013. Government Statistician Geoff Bascand and Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson will decide the exact day in March for the 2013 Census, and the required legislation authorising it will go to Parliament later this year.

See also


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