My hometown can be rebuilt - Brownlee
Last updated 08:40 25/02/2011
The man charged with overseeing the rebuilding of Christchurch has had his first look at the shattered city as Prime Minister John Key warned the country to prepare for the worst.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, who comes from Christchurch, flew back from the Middle East to take charge as Key reshuffled his Cabinet to deal with the disaster.
As fatalities rose, Key said: "We are very fearful tonight that the death toll could be much greater than any of us ever feared."
One of Brownlee's first tasks was to take an air force Iroquois helicopter flight above the city. "The devastation is considerable. It makes me appreciate the way in which we have to attack this."
Late yesterday, he had not returned to check his own home, which was severely damaged in the September quake.
Brownlee said experts would now re-check the condition of the land to ensure rebuilding was possible. He believed the city could be rebuilt.
For now the focus was on recovering bodies. He would soon meet with banks, insurers, Civil Defence boss John Hamilton and Earthquake Commission staff.
Brownlee said people who were able should get back to work, especially if they were involved in food supply chains or "essential" services. "We need people who are able to do their bit."
The number of insurance claims was likely to top 250,000. EQC had increased staff levels from 22 to 1300 and would continue to grow.
Key said a focus was providing clean and safe living conditions for residents. Food was donated, water trucked in and a water filtration system provided. But the risk from contaminated water and sewage remained high.
"If we can't restore water fast enough and sewerage facilities fast enough, then that proposes a health risk for the community that's why were working as aggressively as we can."
At this stage, there was no need for a mass evacuation of the city.
Checks of the damage to homes was also beginning with 40 teams of four people being dispatched.
Offers from overseas continued to be made yesterday. Key spoke to British Prime Minister David Cameron several times. United States President Barack Obama also called.
Temporary housing will be erected around Christchurch for people whose homes are being rebuilt.
Housing Minister Phil Heatley said sites were being sought out for modular homes.
Housing New Zealand was searching for available sites around the city which were already serviced with utilities.
They would be designed for people who needed to rebuild their homes, but wanted to live in Christchurch in the meantime.
"Once people start returning they will want to live somewhere."
Heatley said the Government had set up a central website, www.housinghelp.govt.nz where people could also seek out temporary accommodation.
Offers of accommodation have already flooded into other websites and through other channels.
The Government-run site would co-ordinate those offers and "match houses with need", Mr Heatley said.
Early indications show at least 17 schools have suffered major damage. Schools and early childhood centres remain closed, but those in Selwyn and Waimakariri may reopen after the weekend.
More than 200 rest-home residents were being moved out of quake-damaged accommodation. Some were staying with family while others were moved to other South Island facilities by the air force.
Treasury was looking at the quake's effect on government finances for the year.
CITY 'MORE QUAKE-PROOF'
Christchurch is likely to be a more earthquake-proof city in the future as a result of the recent devastation, Brownlee said.
Liquefaction helped close up voids in the earth and created a better situation.
"It has actually got its positive sides and it's not the worst things that could happen in an earthquake," Brownlee told Radio New Zealand.
Many of the buildings to come down in this quake and the last were older buildings and residents now had the chance to rebuild using the latest architectural engineering techniques, he said.
"There's no point walking around wringing our hands saying 'what do we do now, what do we do now'; we get on with it."
The hardest part, and the biggest difference from September would be the mourning the city would go through, he said.
"Two-and-a-half days ago there was a massive event here... there'll be some temporary fixes and then there'll be some longer term solutions."