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Friday, March 4, 2011

Eerie silence fills the heart of Christchurch

Eerie silence fills the heart of Christchurch

Last updated 05:00 05/03/2011
LONESOME STREETS: Manchester St, usually a bustling thoroughfare as people meet up in town for a few drinks at the end of a working week, is devoid of people.

In the early hours of the morning, there was not even a lonely drunk staggering through the streets.

The Christchurch CBD is a ghost town.

Busy Poplar Lane and Sol Square, where people would spill from well-lit bars into the street, stood empty. Debris lay stacked against broken shop windows in Manchester St, where stock was once displayed. Under 24-hour Defence Force lockdown, only police and search and recovery crews are allowed in or out of the cordon that surrounds what was once the heart of the city. Day and night they work among the rubble, while quiet descends on the deserted streets – apart from the aftershocks. A handful of looters have dared to enter, and been caught and prosecuted by police.

The outer areas of the cordon will shrink on Sunday, giving the public the chance to see up close the damage caused to buildings, including the Arts Centre and the Provincial Chambers.

The central city will stay closed for at least six months until the teetering Hotel Grand Chancellor is brought down.

The 26-storey hotel has been slated for demolition now that it has been cleared of having any bodies trapped inside.

About 800 buildings are expected to go under the wrecking ball as a commission of inquiry begins on Monday.

Prime Minister John Key said that because of the "severe" lateral movement of land in the quake, buildings had absorbed on average 1.8 to two times the building code standard of movement.

"We are totally committed to rebuilding Christchurch and ensuring that those buildings are of a standard that can withstand an earthquake shock," Mr Key said. "It's quite possible that 800 buildings will be removed and demolished as a result of the earthquake."

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has indicated that, when the hotel and other unsafe buildings are brought down, the central business district will reopen.

And there would be "widespread demolitions" in the city once it was clear that there were no more bodies still trapped in buildings – but that was still some way away.

Central city retailers may be shut out of their premises for weeks, if not longer.

Half of Christchurch's most prized heritage buildings have been slapped with red stickers, with 3006 properties within the city's four avenues going through assessment.

Of those, 45 per cent had red or yellow stickers marking them as unsafe. Further inspections will determine if they need to be demolished.

And after the heat and dust of earlier in the week, it is going to get cold.

Temperatures are expected to plummet to 7 degrees Celsius this weekend, with snow down to 1000 metres.


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