Earthquake shattered illusions of growth

Quakes shakes our reality. The physical impact destroys not just buildings, but changes lives and communities   . Preventing said destruction through improved planning and infrastructure, in the China that is consciously pushing forward, is the challenge. From ‘The Global Times’ editorial.

M5.2 SICHUAN-YUNNAN-GUIZHOU RG CHINA 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Multiple earthquakes struck rural areas of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces on Friday, claiming dozens of lives and wounding hundreds. The news sent shockwaves throughout the country, highlighting China‘s vulnerability to natural disasters and the urgency for strengthened capabilities in disaster prevention and reduction.

A quake as strong as Friday’s, which was measured at 5.7 on the Richter scale, could have caused fewer or even no casualties in a more developed region.

It once again served as a reminder that China has far from having completed its modernization process. The country as a whole is still prone to calamities that prey on its weaker aspects. Three decades of fast development have ushered China into the great cause of modernization, but that time was merely the beginning.

Many poorly constructed houses could not withstand the quake and were reduced to rubble. People who have illusions about China’s national strength have to wake up to the fact that many people still live in houses with similar conditions. It is impossible for them to be immediately relocated to safer ones any time soon.

Society as a whole is by no means affluent enough. For many at the grass-roots level, it is more reasonable to spend their limited disposable income on a slightly better life. Coping with natural disasters has never been a priority for those people, who instead have to count on luck as they cannot afford the costly requirements of investing in precautionary measures.

Many would prefer bigger, rather than safer but more expensive, houses or apartments. To take the time and invest money in the prevention of natural disasters, which are unpredictable and are unlikely to occur, does not seem like a persuasive proposal to many in China.

The fundamental reason for this lies in poverty. There are always more pressing and urgent priorities in daily life for them to spend their money on.

Despite the status quo, we have to act now. Reflection and remedies should be in place. Things cannot be done in one move, but that’s no excuse for remaining idle.

China should seek fast and quality development at the same time. The safety of lives is at the core of such an ideology. Houses, bridges and food should be safer and that’s where modernization should be unswervingly headed.

Upgrades to urban infrastructure should no longer focus merely on their appearance. More people should work toward disaster prevention and rescue. Any infrastructure work should put safety above all else.

Indeed, safety comes at a cost. But it also brings more development opportunities and wealth in the meantime.

Source :


Quake Update : 7.0 Sea Quake Shakes Tokyo, but Causes No Damage

tsunami warning: Be careful to tsunamis #1583
Image by Nemo's great uncle via Flickr
tsunami marker #7728
Image by Nemo’s great uncle via Flickr

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck under the sea south of Japan on Sunday, shaking buildings in the capital but causing no apparent damage or tsunami. ABC reports.

The quake struck near the uninhabited island of Torishima in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) south of Tokyo, and its epicenter was about 370 kilometers (230 miles) below the sea, the Meterological Agency said. It did not generate a tsunami.

Buildings in the Tokyo area shook, but no damage or injuries were reported. Express trains in northern and central Japan were suspended temporarily for safety checks but later resumed.

No abnormalities were reported at power plants, including the crippled nuclear power plant in northeast Japan hit by the March earthquake and tsunami, public broadcaster NHK reported.

A massive earthquake and tsunami March 11 left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing. Japan, which lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” is one of the world’s most seismically active countries.

Source :

Earth damage : Japan is knocked sideways, literally… and communities will never be the same

The Independent on Sunday’s David Randall takes a new unique view of some unusual results of Japan‘s earthquake….

The cataclysm was so powerful it shifted the Earth off its axis. Then the waters hit.

After a cataclysm so powerful it moved the Earth 10 inches off its axis, Japan woke yesterday to find itself a country that had, literally, been knocked sideways.

The massive earthquake that hit Japan on Friday was so powerful that it changed the shape of the country’s coastline and shifted the earth’s axis. Geophysicist Kenneth Hudnut, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey, told CNN that the quake moved part of Japan’s land mass by nearly 2.5 meters. Experts say that the huge shake, caused by a shift in the tectonic plates deep underwater, also threw the earth off its axis point by at least 8 centimeters. Thousands of people were unaccounted for in Japan on Saturday, a day after the 8.9 earthquake shook the country and giant tsunami waves crashed 10 kilometers inland in the northeast.


Full article from the Indy

The cataclysm was so powerful it shifted the Earth off its axis. Then the waters hit.

After a cataclysm so powerful it moved the Earth 10 inches off its axis, Japan woke yesterday to find itself a country that had, literally, been knocked sideways.

With the north-east coast now shunted two metres from where it was on Friday morning, neighbourhood after neighbourhood is submerged under a grotesque soup of water and debris. Homes have been flattened as if by the swiping forearm of an angry giant. Tens of thousands of once orderly acres look like the world’s ugliest landfill – a jumble of broken homes, cars, boats, and concrete, with shipping containers cluttering the landscape like Lego on an unkempt nursery floor.

And somewhere, under all this vast mess, are four entire trains, small towns, villages, and a fearful number of bodies. It could be 2,000, 10,000, or many times that number. In one town alone, 9,500 people are unaccounted for.

And, as if that were not enough, only 150 miles from Tokyo, radiation leaked from a nuclear plant crippled by an explosion. Officials were swift to assert that any meltdown, if it came, would not be on anything like the scale or severity of Chernobyl, but 170,000 were evacuated, and iodine distributed to some. It would not be the first nuclear incident where initial assurances proved optimistic.

The authorities at first said that an evacuation radius of six miles from the stricken 40-year-old Daiichi 1 reactor plant in Fukushima prefecture was adequate, but, an hour later, the boundary was extended to 13 miles. Vapour, said to consist of minimally radioactive steam, could be seen rising from the plant. And then, in the early hours this morning, there came a 6.4 Richter scale aftershock. More may come.

The explosion came as the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, (Tepco) was working desperately to reduce pressure in the core of the reactor. Lest anyone think that, in this land of commercial efficiency, the assurances of little risk can be trusted implicitly, they should remember that this is the nuclear industry they are dealing with. In 2002, the president of the country’s largest power utility was forced to resign, along with four other senior executives, taking responsibility for suspected falsification of nuclear-plant safety records.

But despite everything, Japan’s spirit remains intact. As one blogger wrote yesterday: “Our grandparents rebuilt Japan after the war and the growth was considered a miracle around the world. We will work to rebuild Japan in the same way again. Don’t give up Japan! Don’t give up Tohoku [the north-east region]!”

A stupendously large task, however, faces it. Friday’s quake was the most monstrous even this, the world’s most tremor-prone country, has ever recorded. This was strong enough to leave a 186-mile rupture on the ocean floor, but it was the subsequent tsunami – sending 30ft-high waves barrelling into Japan’s north-east coast – which has turned a disaster into a cataclysm. The wall of water, moving at an estimated 25 mph, swallowed boats, homes, cars, trees and even small planes, and used these as battering rams as it charged up to six miles inland, demolishing all that stood in its way.

The town of Rikuzentakata, population 24,700, in northern Iwate prefecture, looked largely submerged in muddy water, with hardly a trace of houses or buildings of any kind. And in Kesennuma, where 74,000 lived, widespread fires somehow burned, despite a third of the city being submerged. And then there is – or, to be more accurate, was – the port of Sendai, which had the misfortune to be only 80 miles from the epicentre of the 8.9 quake.

Here, until Friday early afternoon, was the city of a million people. Now, at least a third of it lies beneath the filthy waters and mud, and what isn’t drowned is largely destroyed. The city’s Wakabayashi district, which runs directly up to the sea, remained a swampy wasteland, with murky, waist-high water. Most houses were completely flattened, as if a giant bulldozer had swept through.

Police said they found 200 to 300 bodies washed up on nearby beaches, and grief-stricken residents searched for their former homes, but, faced with dark waters where streets had been, many couldn’t even tell where their houses once stood. Occasionally, there was something recognisable – a chair, a tyre, a beer-cooler. In the city’s dock area, cars swept away by the waves sat on top of buildings, on the top of other cars, or jammed into staircases.

Many Sendai residents spent the night outdoors, or wandering debris-strewn streets, unable to return to homes damaged or destroyed by the quake or tsunami. Those who did find a place to rest for the night awoke to utter despair. Miles from the ocean’s edge, weary, mud-spattered survivors wandered streets strewn with fallen trees, crumpled cars, and light aircraft. Relics of lives now destroyed were everywhere – half a piano, a textbook, a red sleeping bag.

Rescue workers plied boats through murky waters around flooded structures, nosing their way through a sea of detritus, while smoke from at least one large fire billowed in the distance. Power and phone reception were cut, while hundreds of people lined up outside the few still-operating supermarkets for basic commodities. The petrol stations on streets not covered with water were swamped with people waiting to fill their cars.

The situation was similar in scores of other towns and cities along the 1,300-mile eastern coastline hit by the tsunami. Early yesterday morning, Atsushi Koshi, 24, a call-centre worker in the coastal city of Tagajo, about 10 miles east of Sendai, said his cousin remained trapped on the roof of a department store with 200 to 300 other people awaiting rescue. The rest of his family was safe, but he wondered what to do, since the house he shares with his parents was tilting after the quake, and a concrete block wall had fallen apart.

One hospital in Miyagi prefecture was seen surrounded by water, and, at another, television footage showed staff on a rooftop waving banners with the words “FOOD” and “HELP” on them. Rescue teams and helicopters were plucking some people to safety, but, as night fell on the second day of the disaster, many were still awaiting salvation. Large areas are still surrounded by water and unreachable.

In five prefectures, or states, more than 215,000 people are now living in 1,350 temporary shelters. At an evacuation centre in Iwate, more than 1,000 people evacuated there had next to no supplies, gas, electricity, or running water. They had only been allowed one glass of water, one onigiri rice ball, and half a piece of bread as rations yesterday – a typical allocation in evacuation centres in all the hardest hit areas. Most of all, beyond the most stricken places, people are without power; some four million have no power, one million lack water.

Although Tokyo’s inner-city transport is tentatively beginning a return to normal, all highways from the capital which lead to quake-hit areas were closed, except for emergency vehicles. Tens of thousands of people had been stranded on Friday with the rail network down, and, despite the city setting up 33 shelters in City Hall, on university campuses and in government offices, many spent the night at 24-hour cafés, hotels and offices. Mobile telephone communications were patchy, and calls to the devastated areas were going unanswered.

The enormous rescue and emergency supplies operation is now beginning to gather pace. The Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, said 50,000 troops would be deployed, and a total of 190 military aircraft and 25 ships have been sent to the north-east, where more than 125 aftershocks have occurred. Many of them were above magnitude 6.0, which, in normal circumstances, would be considered strong.

The UN announced late on Friday that four foreign search-and-rescue teams, from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and the US, were on their way. Singapore is sending an urban search-and-rescue team, as is Britain; Switzerland has sent 25 rescue and medical experts, with nine sniffer dogs.

All this, in a nation which may seem the epitome of industrial efficiency, but is the most heavily indebted major economy in the world. The first estimates of the total insured loss caused by the quake and tsunami were put yesterday at £9.3bn – a wickedly unwelcome burden on an economy just starting to show signs of revival. Japan will need all its famed organisational powers in the coming days and weeks.

Additional reporting by Midori Bills and Kyoko Nishimoto

The figures: Drowned towns, radiation leaks

Yesterday’s main developments after an 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck north-east Japan on Friday and set off a tsunami:

* More than 1,700 people officially dead or missing, with many more unaccounted for, including 9,500 people in one town.

* Radiation leaks from a damaged nuclear plant after an explosion blows off the roof, raising fears of a meltdown at the facility north of Tokyo.

* Three workers suffer radiation exposure near Fukushima nuclear plant. Nuclear safety agency rates the incident a 4 on the 1-7 International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, less serious than Three Mile Island, a 5, and Chernobyl, a 7.

* Several large towns and cities are more than a third submerged by waters and debris.

* Some 215,000 people living in government shelters.

* Four million without power, a million with no water.

* Total insured loss could be up to $15bn, equity analysts covering the industry says.–ndash-but-a-nation-begins-its-fightback-2240508.html

Earthquake and resulting tsunami hit Japan

Animation of 2004 Indonesia tsunami Source: NO...
Image via Wikipedia

A massive earthquake has hit the north-east of Japan, triggering a tsunami that has caused extensive damage.

Japanese television showed cars, ships and even buildings being swept away by a vast wall of water after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake.

Earthquake Details

  • This is a computer-generated message — this event has not yet been reviewed by a seismologist.
Magnitude 8.9
Location 38.322°N, 142.369°E
Depth 24.4 km (15.2 miles) set by location program
Distances 130 km (80 miles) E of Sendai, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) E of Yamagata, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) ENE of Fukushima, Honshu, Japan
373 km (231 miles) NE of TOKYO, Japan
Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 13.5 km (8.4 miles); depth fixed by location program
Parameters NST=350, Nph=351, Dmin=416.3 km, Rmss=1.46 sec, Gp= 29°,
M-type=”moment” magnitude from initial P wave (tsuboi method) (Mi/Mwp), Version=A
Event ID usc0001xgp

How to measure earthquakes

There are thousands of earthquakes around the world each year, but only a few cause serious damage.

Scale showing what different quakes have measured
Earthquakes are measured in magnitude, on a scale ranging from micro to great. A magnitude of 6.0 and above is classified as strong and can cause severe damage, like the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand.The largest earthquake in recent years was in Sumatra in 2004. It measured 9.3 and triggered the devastating Asian tsunami.

The figures above seek to measure an earthquake in terms of the energy it releases.

The scale used to measure earthquakes is unusual. For example, the difference in strength between an earthquake of magnitude 5 and magnitude 6 earthquake is much more dramatic than a rise of just one unit would suggest.

In fact, a magnitude 6 earthquake possesses 32 times more energy than a magnitude 5 quake, as seismologists use a logarithmic scale to record these natural disasters.

This means that a gap of two steps, from 5 to 7, represents an earthquake nearly 1,000 times stronger.

Quakes likely to cause the most destruction measure 7.0 and above.

The 2004 earthquake which triggered the Asian tsunami was the third biggest quake since 1900. It measured 9.3.

There are an estimated 20 major quakes in the world every year according to the US Geological Survey.

The 2010 Haiti quake measured 7.0 and because the epicentre was so close to the ill-prepared capital, Port-au-Prince, the damage was severe, and over 200,000 people died as a result.

The death toll in Haiti is in stark contrast to the magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile in February 2010 where less than 1,000 people died.

Chile has a long history of strong earthquakes. The largest recorded earthquake took place there in 1960. It measured 9.5 and was also followed by tsunamis.

About 1,655 people were killed – it’s thought the casualties were comparatively light because there were a number of warning shocks that sent people running out of their homes before the main quake.

Full article

A massive earthquake has hit the north-east of Japan, triggering a tsunami that has caused extensive damage.

Japanese television showed cars, ships and even buildings being swept away by a vast wall of water after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake.

The quake has sparked fires in several areas including Tokyo, with at least 15 people reported dead.

It struck about 250 miles (400km) from the capital at a depth of 20 miles. There have been powerful aftershocks.

The tremor hit at 1446 local time (0546 GMT). Seismologists say it is one of the largest earthquakes to hit Japan for many years.

A tsunami warning was extended across the Pacific to include the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hawaii, the Pacific coast of Russia and North and South America.

Strong waves hit Japan’s Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, officials said, damaging dozens of coastal communities. Kyodo news agency said a 10-metre wave (33ft) struck the port of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture.

Japan’s NHK television showed a massive surge of debris-filled water sweeping away buildings, cars and ships and reaching far inland.

Motorists could be seen trying to speed away from the wall of water.

Farmland around Sendai was submerged and the waves pushed cars across the runway of the city’s airport.

Kyodo said at least 15 people had been killed in the earthquake and tsunami. It was believed the death toll could rise significantly.

Deadliest earthquakes

26 Dec 2004, Sumatra, Indonesia: 9.1 quake and tsunami kills 227,898 across Pacific region

12 Jan 2010, Haiti: 222,570 killed, 7.0

12 May 2008, Sichuan, China: 87,587 killed, 7.9

8 Oct 2005, Pakistan: 80,361 killed, 7.6

20 June 1990, Manjil, Iran: 40,000 killed, 7.4

26 Dec 2003, Bam, Iran: 31,000 killed, 6.6

16 Jan 2001, Gujurat, India: 20,023 killed, 7.7

17 Aug 1999, Izmit, Turkey: 17,118 killed, 7.6

30 Sep 1993 Latur, India: 9,748 killed, 6.2

16 Jan 1996, Kobe, Japan: 5,530 dead, 6.9

Source: USGS

The earthquake also triggered a number of fires, including one at an oil refinery in Ichihara city in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo, engulfing storage tanks.

There were reports of about 20 people injured in Tokyo after the roof of a hall collapsed on to a graduation ceremony.

Residents and workers in Tokyo rushed out of apartment buildings and office blocks and gathered in parks and open spaces as aftershocks continued to hit.

Many people in Tokyo said they had never felt such a powerful earthquake.

In central Tokyo, Jeffrey Balanag said he was stuck in his office in the Shiodome Sumitomo building because the elevators had stopped working.

“There’s no panic but we’re almost seasick from the constant rolling of the building,” he told the BBC.

Map of Japan

Bullet train services to northern Japan were halted, rapid transit in Tokyo was suspended and some nuclear power plants automatically shut down.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said there had been no radiation leaks.

In a televised address, he extended his sympathy to the victims of the disaster and said an emergency response headquarters had been set up.

Earthquake Updates

Sanitation concerns in post-quake Christchurch

Wendy Zukerman, Australasia reporter

In the New Zealand city of Christchurch authorities are scrambling to restore water supplies and sewage systems which were severely damaged by last week’s 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey told New Zealand Doctor that 40 per cent of Christchurch doesn’t have running water and the entire city’s water supply is “compromised”.


(Image: Jamie Ball/Rex Features)

Isolated cases of measles and gastroenteritis have been reported. According to Humphrey the gastro cases were likely to have been water-borne and the result of people brushing their teeth with contaminated water – rather than spread through human contact.

But, a Canterbury District Health Board spokeswoman told the New Zealand Herald: “There is an underlying potential for there to be a measles outbreak. There’s a chance of an outbreak of gastro diseases.”

Many residents are living in camps, where the poor sanitation and cramped living conditions are perfect for disease outbreaks.

On Friday, Cowles Stadium welfare centre – which provided accommodation for Christchurch earthquake evacuees – was forced to close because its water and sewage services were not considered reliable.

Radio New Zealand reported that the Christchurch City Council was “worried about disease” at the stadium, and said it could not “afford an outbreak of diarrhoea.”

All citizens are being encouraged to boil their water before consuming it.

At 12.51 pm local time today – precisely one week from when the earthquake struck, burying as many as 200 people – the city stood silent for 2 minutes.

Mental health is seen as a growing concern in the city, too. A doctor from a nearby hospital that has been helping patients told the New Zealand Herald, “We had walking wounded coming in initially on Tuesday – people with cuts, minor injuries and things like that. We are starting to get more people with shock coming in and I expect that to increase.”

The tectonic forces that are shredding New Zealand

The week of 22 February the New Zealand city of Christchurch felt the force of a 6.3-magnitude earthquake. The quake came just five months after an even larger one struck 40 kilometres west of Christchurch, near the town of Darfield. In fact New Zealand experiences around 14,000 tremors each year, although most are too small to be felt. They are a sign of the tectonic processes that are gradually shredding the country.

Why is New Zealand so prone to earthquakes?
Regions that lie close to a boundary between tectonic plates tend to feel more quakes than areas in the middle of a plate. New Zealand may have a total land area of just 27,000 square kilometres, but that area happens to coincide with the margin between the Pacific and Australian plates, leaving parts of the island very seismically active.

Which areas are most vulnerable?
Large areas of both North and South Islands have felt earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 5 within the past 200 years. This is because of New Zealand’s unique tectonic regime: despite its small size, the country feels the impact of three distinct regions of tectonic activity.

The relatively low-density continental crust of the North Island, which sits on the Australian plate, is forcing the dense oceanic crust on the Pacific plate beneath it in a process called subduction. This creates a so-called destructive plate margin that is nibbling away at the Pacific plate. Earthquakes are common where a subducting plate grinds against the underside of an overriding plate.

Something similar is occurring to the south-west of South Island. But here the sliver of continental crust lies on the Pacific plate, and it is the Australian plate that is being destroyed through subduction.

In between, the continental crust on the Pacific and Australian plates slide past one another on South Island, creating a conservative plate margin where crust is neither created nor destroyed. This area is still prone to earthquakes, most notably along the Alpine fault. Further away from these fault zones the ground is generally more quiescent. Christchurch is over 100 kilometres from the Alpine fault.

So what caused the Christchurch quake?
It was caused by a new fault – or, to be more precise, a previously unrecognised fault.

“The fault is likely to have existed previously – and possibly produced earthquakes before – but they have not ruptured recently, in a geological sense,” says John Townend at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The unrecognised fault appears to be an offshoot from the Alpine fault. Unfortunately for the residents of Christchurch, that offshoot passes very near South Island’s largest city.

Are more quakes on the fault likely?
Earthquake prediction is an inexact science, despite tantalising evidence thatearly warning systems may be possible in some cases. But some seismologists are cautiously optimistic.

“An earthquake of this magnitude does a good job of releasing stress,” says Gary Gibson, a seismologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Townend agrees: “My interpretation of what we are seeing near Christchurch is temporary, albeit harrowing, activity in what is generally a relatively low-seismicity part of the broad plate boundary.”

What’s the long-term prognosis for New Zealand?
Even if Christchurch dodges major seismic activity in the near future, tectonic forces will continue to act on New Zealand. Hamish Campbell at the research consultancy GNS Science in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, says it’s “very unlikely” that the newly recognised fault will have any serious effect on the country’s geography, but activity on the Alpine fault may well do so.

The rocks on either side of the Alpine fault are grinding past each other quickly – at around 30 millimetres per year. The southern part of South Island has moved at least 480 kilometres relative to the northern part within the past 25 million years. That rate of movement is “colossal”, says Campbell – and not far off the displacement seen on the world-famous San Andreas fault in California, which is itself a conservative plate margin.

Fast forward several million years and New Zealand will continue to twist and turn. The activity that is already shredding the country will ultimately see South Island “split in two along the Alpine boundary”, says Campbell. The town of Kaikoura would be at the northern tip of one island, with Greymouth at the southern tip of the other, he predicts.


Earthquake: The unknown fault that caught out Christchurch


NEW ZEALAND is riddled with major active faults, but it seems the fatal 6.3-magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch this week was caused by one that was not on the list.

“Christchurch has never been identified as a major earthquake zone, because no one knew this fault ran beneath,” says Roger Musson, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.

The Alpine fault that runs along the mountainous spine of South Island marks the boundary between the Australian and Pacific plates. It now appears likely that the Christchurch quake resulted from a previously unknown fault extending directly eastward from the Alpine fault.

It first came to light last September when a stronger but less calamitous quake shook Darfield, 40 kilometres west of Christchurch. Seismologists believe the latest quake resulted from …

Full article

Today’s fatal earthquake near Christchurch in New Zealand confirms that a country already riddled with major fault lines has gained another one, say seismologists.

“Christchurch has never been identified as a major earthquake zone, because no one knew this fault ran beneath,” says Roger Musson, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.

New Zealand experiences thousands of earthquakes each year, because it lies on the boundary between the Pacific and the Australian tectonic plates. To the north-east, the Pacific plate is subducting beneath New Zealand’s North Island, and to the south-west, the Australian plate is subducting beneath the South Island. Between these two subduction zones lies theAlpine fault, running along the mountainous spine of the South Island.

It now appears likely that the Christchurch quake resulted from activity on a fault extending directly eastward from the Alpine fault that remained unknown until last year, says Musson.

The new fault first came to light last September when a stronger but less calamitous quakeshook Darfield, 40 kilometres west of Christchurch. Musson says the latest quake probably resulted from an eastward continuation of activity on the same fault. “It has probably not moved for tens of thousands of years, so lots of strain built up,” says Musson.

Christchurch was understandably unprepared for activity on a fault that is only now making its presence known. But two factors made today’s damage worse. The quake was just 5 kilometres down, limiting the amount of energy it dissipated before reaching Christchurch from its epicentre just 10 kilometres away. Also, the rock on either side of the fault accelerated almost three times as fast as in a typical quake, says Musson, so the shaking was extra violent – and significantly greater than the levels Christchurch’s structures have been designed to withstand



Christchurch time capsules provide flicker of hope


From The Independent

As New Zealanders observed two minutes’ silence in memory of those killed in last week’s Christchurch earthquake, rescue workers made a remarkable discovery among the rubble: two time capsules from up to 144 years ago.

A metal cylinder and a bottle containing rolled-up parchment were found beneath the plinth of a statue of Christchurch‘s Irish founder, John Robert Godley, which toppled during the magnitude 6.3 quake.

The city’s Mayor, Bob Parker, said the parchment appeared to bear a message expressing the vision of Godley and his contemporaries for the city.

With the final death toll expected to reach about 240, and one-third of Christchurch’s buildings facing demolition, Mr Parker described the discovery of the capsules in the main square, near the cathedral, as “a miracle”. He said: “It seems almost providential that they have come to light now, to provide the inspiration we need in this most difficult time.”

The bottle and cylinder were unearthed shortly before the nation halted at 12.51pm, exactly a week after the quake struck. Throughout the country, flags were lowered to half-mast, muffled church bells pealed and groups of people gathered outside to bow their heads.

In Christchurch itself, jackhammers fell quiet and hundreds of rescue workers paused, turning their dusty faces to the ground or the sky. Traffic stopped, and friends and neighbours embraced. Mike Cochrane got out of his car at one of the city’s busiest intersections and observed the two minutes’ silence under a tree. “It’s my home, and it hurts so much to see it this way,” he said.

In the capital, Wellington, which yesterday experienced its own minor earthquake, a traditional Maori lament rang out over the parliament building.

In central Christchurch, the Prime Minister, John Key – who had urged New Zealanders to join together for people “enduring tragedy beyond what most of us can imagine” – led a tribute in front of a collection of bricks from the worst-hit sites, crossed with ferns, the national emblem.

With hopes of finding any more survivors having evaporated, efforts are now focused on retrieving the dead. By last night 155 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage of New Zealand’s second-worst natural disaster, after an earthquake that killed 256 people in Napier in 1931.

But even as Christchurch residents grieved, they were asking why so many had died, particularly in the worst-affected Canterbury Television (CTV) and Pyne Gould Guinness buildings.

Mr Key, who has ordered a commission of inquiry, said there were legitimate questions about why office blocks had collapsed in a place with supposedly quake-proof building standards, and six months after a previous big tremor.

“We need to get answers about why those buildings failed, if there was something unique about them,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television.

Mr Key noted that both blocks were built before substantial changes were made to the New Zealand building code in 1976.

The owners of the CTV building – where scores of English-language students died – said a detailed structural engineering report commissioned after September’s quake had found only superficial damage.

The time capsules – believed to have been buried either in 1867, when the statue was put up, or in 1933, when it was returned to its original site after being removed in 1918 – are being examined before being opened in a humidity-controlled environment. Two words – “by” and “erected” – are visible on the document inside the partly smashed bottle.

Noting the timing of the find, exactly a week after the quake, Mr Parker said: “It’s a miracle that these guys found this thing this morning under the statue of a man who was the founder of the city.

“I don’t know what the words are, but I imagine it will tell us of the hopes and aspirations of the people of this city when it was founded. Is there a better time to have that refreshed?”

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