Christchurch shaken in earthquake, now choked
Howling winds stir up stifling dust cloudsMICHELLE DUFF AND IMOGEN NEALE
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2011
THE AIR THEY BREATHE: Dust replaced sand in the air at the seaside suburb of New Brighton. Aerial search and rescue operations stopped yesterday as swirling gusts up to 90kmh turned pieces of wood, tiles, roofing iron and clods of earth into dangerous missiles.
ANDREW GORRIE/ The Dominion Post
The earth still trembles, and as smothering dust sweeps Christchurch, residents are simply struggling to breathe.
Residents, police and search and rescue workers had to don masks and glasses yesterday as howling winds stirred up clouds of dust.
Mountains of silt left behind by the quake were whipped into the air by up to 90kmh winds. Debris was flung around streets, with pieces of wood, tiles, roofing iron and clods of earth becoming dangerous missiles. Aerial search and rescue operations were suspended as cranes stayed unmanned and helicopters could not take off.
As aftershocks continued, many areas remained without water, power or sewerage, making it impossible for people to get clean.
Health officials are warning the estimated 260,000 tonnes of silt thrown up by liquefaction is likely to pose risks for those breathing it in. The dust has irritated people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, and sparked respiratory conditions in others.
Sewage, asbestos and other contaminants could also be present in the silt. Millions of face masks have been distributed by the Student Volunteer Army.
Gastroenteritis is a serious risk, with authorities fearing 22 isolated cases could turn into an outbreak if people do not wash their hands and boil water.
Outside a New Brighton medical clinic, Juana Kino slipped a face mask on to 10-month-old son Mana-Toa. Both of them have been coughing for three days and now she feels sick.
"My nose is blocked up and my glands are swollen. I know it's from what's in the air."
When she started her car to go to the doctor, a cloud of gritty dust "whooshed" out of the air-conditioning. "I could feel it in my throat, I was crunching on it."
Nearly 500 people have been treated at an Australian emergency field hospital in the past four days. The 75-bed hospital is set up at Cowles Stadium.
Many residents were coming in for asthma inhalers because they could not get them from home or get to a doctor. Only a few of the 50 inhalers delivered at the weekend are left.
Asthma Foundation medical director Bob Hancox said asthmatics should stick to their regular treatment. "Don't delay seeking medical help if breathing is deteriorating."
Dr Mark Little of Cairns Hospital said the field hospital had dealt with lots of instances of respiratory problems and diarrhoea – but many who came with a physical ailment ended up talking about psychological troubles.
The wind was due to ease last night.
- The Dominion Post