A city already brutalised by quakes and aftershocks, and buildings already weakened by the quake on September 4th and the Boxing Day shake and every aftershock between here and there finally succumbed under a new shock which was lesser in magnitude than the first one, but closer to home and greater and much more tragic in its in its effect.
The ground movement in the first quake imposed a horizontal force on buildings roughly equivalent to 8/10ths of the building’s gravity load. The one-minute shake at lunchtime yesterday imposed a horizontal load roughly equivalent to gravity. It’s as if for one minute each building was picked up and turned on its side, and held by its “foot” just to see what happened—that’s the sort of load, one whole gravity load, that was imposed on the Cathedral tower, on the Pyne Gould Building, on the CTV building, on the Old Arts Building, on the Crowne Plaza hotel, on The Press building, on the Provincial Chambers Building, on sundry new, near-new and frankly ancient buildings that had finally been given more than they could handle.
No wonder they gave up the ghost.
The columns in the Pyne Gould Building and the CTV building gave up, leaving the floors to pancake on top of each other and on the poor folk within. The roof and large parts of the top floors of The Press Building detached themselves from what held them and headed earthwards, while folk within were left sheltering under their desks. The Forsyth Barr Building maintained its structural integrity and protected the people within, but the stairs (which may have been fixed in such a way they acted as structural bracing) were so mangled as to be unusable. The Cathedral, whose survival in the first quake gave the city the sort of heart the survival of St Paul’s gave Londoners during the Blitz, finally crumbled at the point where base met tower and tower then collapsed in on itself—taking the aspirations of many Cantabrians with it and, it’s feared, many people who were visiting the tower when the shake started.
And that was just the major building disasters. Outer walls in older buildings everywhere peeled off and just collapsed, leaving people inside huddling together for safety. Bridges collapsed. Water, gas and sewerage mains burst. Ground liquefied. The sky cried. And everywhere there was falling masonry, any one piece of which can kill.
It was a disaster.
There was a jolt that threw people off their feet and a sound like a hundred rushing trains. After the shaking stopped, there was a moment of silence. Then a wail of ambulance sirens.
In hindsight you could say that these buildings and many others should probably not have been occupied. The structure of modern buildings are designed economically—designed to withstand an earthquake and allow the occupants to get out, and to be strengthened thereafter. But these buildings and their occupants had already endured much more than one earthquake without ever being re-strengthened. Reconstruction had been proceeding at such a snail’s pace that few if any structures had been repaired as they should to take new shakes.
One of the few blessings of yesterday was that the shake happened at lunchtime. Not as good as a shake happening after hours, but at least in some buildings some of the occupants had stepped outside for lunch.
Another was that a medical conference was happening in Christchurch, putting 400 Australian urologists right on the spot to help out (not exactly the speciality you’d order up in the circumstances, but skilled and on the spot nonetheless).
And another is that specialised search and rescue teams from around the world are already hard at work an on their way you help out uncover and rescue the many folk still trapped in the rubble of dead and dying buildings.
It’s hard to feel blessed when there are already 65 people confirmed dead, and talk last night already started about that number reaching 200, or even 400.
In a city with nearly $12 billion of damage, so much at such a time that you’d wonder whether it will be able to rise again.
It’s a dark day for sure. Perhaps New Zealand’s darkest.
PS: For overseas readers concerned about yours truly, I thank you for your concern and can tell you we folk up here in Auckland are all fine and untouched and undamaged. We’re about a thousand kilometres from the quake. But they're not doing so well down in Christchurch.
Source: UK Daily Telegraph
UPDATE 1: Check out the Christchurch Quake Map to get a feel for what hit Christchurch yesterday. Select Tuesday 22/2/11 and press play, and just see what hit it.
UPDATE 4: Christchurch-based bloggers Trevor Loudon, Eric Crampton and Bernard Darnton report all well with them and theirs (and thanks for asking)—Bernard just needs to shovel his house out of the silt and bring a disobedient concrete slab back into line.
UPDATE 5: Not good looking news: “A temporary mortuary to deal with Christchurch earthquake victims has been moved to the Burnham Military Camp ‘for capacity reasons’ . . . ”
UDPATE 6: Mayor Bob Parker says now
79 75 confirmed bodies, and up to 300 people still missing [via Barry Soper].
UPDATE 7: A camera thrust into rubble at the CTV building discovered a pocket in which around 15 people are still alive. 7 are believed to be still alive at the Pyne Gould Guinness Building. Around 20 are believed not to be at the Cathedral.