WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Aftershocks rocked New Zealand’s second-biggest city on Monday causing further damage and forcing authorities to extend a state of emergency after the country’s most damaging earthquake in 80 years.
More than 20 aftershocks, the strongest with a magnitude of 4.8, were felt through Monday, sending already loose masonry and bricks in damaged buildings crashing into the streets.
However, despite early estimates of a NZ$2 billion ($1.4 billion) repair bill, financial markets were little affected and followed broader market moves, which pushed the New Zealand dollar higher and debt lower.
Prime Minister John Key said as many as 100,000 homes, about two out of every three in the region, may have been damaged to some degree by the magnitude 7.1 quake which struck early on Saturday.
“The above-ground damage is obvious, but it could take some time to understand just how much damage there is to underground infrastructure,” Key told a news conference.
Power and water supplies have been restored to most of the region, but about 200 people are staying in emergency shelters.
The region has been hit by more than 100 aftershocks, the strongest measuring magnitude 5.4, causing more damage and forcing the Christchurch City Council to extend the closure of the central business district until Wednesday.
Quick action was taken to demolish some of the most severely damaged buildings as aftershocks sent debris crashing to the street.
“It had to be bulldozed down, they couldn’t do anything with it, but it’s distressing to see it like that,” said Ken Fisk after his barber shop was pulled down.
The epicenter of the quake was about 20 km (12 miles) to the west of Christchurch, a city of 350,000, which supports the agricultural-based economy of New Zealand’s South Island.
A seismologist said the quake looked to have been triggered by movement in an unknown fault.
“Before Saturday, there was nothing in the landscape that would have suggested there was an active fault beneath these areas,” said Kelvin Berryman of GNS Science.
The quake had caused a 22 km (12 mile) long rip in the earth, with fissures of up to 4 meters (12 feet), he said.
Key said the government and local authorities had sufficient resources to cover the immediate disruption but the broader economy would suffer.
“There will be considerable disruption to both the Canterbury (region) and national economy in the short term due to a loss in activity as people and businesses deal with the aftermath of the quake,” Key said reporters.
“But looking a little further out, there should be an increase in activity once reconstruction and repair work kick into full gear.”
Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s said the quake would not affect New Zealand’s sovereign rating, but might lead to a one notch downgrade for the Christchurch City Council.
The quake was among the 10 strongest recorded in New Zealand, which sits between the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates, and records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which about 20 top magnitude 5.0.
It was the most damaging quake in New Zealand since the North Island city of Napier was devastated in 1931. The last fatal quake was in 1968 when an earthquake measuring 7.1 killed three people on the South Island’s West Coast.
Reporting by Adrian Bathgate/Gyles Beckford