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Christchurch Suffers Second, More Deadly Quake in 5 Months

People walk through debris in the aftermath of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, on February 22, 2011.
People walk through debris in the aftermath of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, on February 22, 2011.

Tuesday's 6.3 magnitude earthquake that jolted the population of Christchurch, New Zealand is the second major quake to hit the city in the last five months. It struck during the workday, toppling tall office buildings, splitting roads in half and sending people running in panic. At least 65 people have been killed and 100 other are believed to be trapped.

VOA's Victor Beattie spoke with Laura Davis, a reporter for Radio New Zealand, in Auckland.

Tell us what you know about the devastation in Christchurch?

"Well, some of the fatalities are the result of two buses which were crushed by a falling building, and there’s also unknown numbers of people trapped inside collapsed buildings. There is one building in particular in Christchurch city, the Forsythe Barr Building, and there is a group of people on the 17th floor, and a crane is being used to rescue them because the stairwell has completely collapsed. Another worry at the moment is that the fire service has said it doesn’t have enough resources to attend to all the callouts, the city has run out of ambulances, and because of that, 70 army medical staff have been deployed and 400 troops are en route to help police form a cordon around the city, and urban search and rescue teams are also being flown in from around the country, and the New Zealand government has taken up an offer from the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard for more assistance."

This earthquake compared to the one that hit in September obviously hit at a different time of the week and a different time of the day.

"The earthquake today was six-point-three magnitude and it hit just before one o’clock, 10 kilometers southeast of the central city and it was five kilometers deep. And in comparison to the one in September, obviously that was higher on the Richter scale, it was seven-point-one, but it was further away from the city and a lot deeper and that happened just before five A.M., the people were largely asleep in their beds. Today, it was the middle of a workday, in particular there was, a
couple of the schools in Christchurch finished at midday today, so a lot of children were on their way walking home from school when the earthquake struck."

Slideshow of earthquake damage

Buildings in Christchurch are designed to withstand earthquakes. But many were weakened by last September's 7.1 magnitude quake, likely contributing to Tuesday's extensive damage, according to seismologist Bill Fry of GNS Science in Wellington.

"The intensity of the shaking in Christchurch itself was a lot larger. There were three places on the ground where we measured a ground acceleration of greater than 1.0 gravity. That means that the ground was actually accelerating at a rate larger than, say, if an apple fell out of a tree, how fast it would accelerate toward the ground."

How else could you compare this earthquake to the one that hit in September?

"You could only compare them by saying the amount of the fault that ruptured in this event was much smaller than the previous one but because it was so close to town, it was much stronger. The duration of the shaking wasn’t as long, so in the previous earthquake the whole earthquake process took on the order of 30, 40 seconds, and this one, it probably took more like 10 seconds. The length of it shaking, the time someone would have felt it shaking was shorter today, but it had a much greater intensity."

Tell me about Christchurch. Is it susceptible to these quakes in Asia?

"It’s not where we would think of it as the most typical place to get these quakes. All along the margin of New Zealand, actually, is the boundary between the Pacific and the Australian plates. But Christchurch in itself is a region that typically, through time, historically has had fewer earthquakes than other regions of New Zealand. But we have statistical probabilities of earthquakes happening. And as of yesterday, there is a 4 percent chance of a magnitude 6.0 or greater happening within the next four weeks. So, whether or not you think a 4 percent chance is large or small probably governs whether or not you were surprised by this today."