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Sunday, March 20, 2011

State of emergency may last months

State of emergency may last months

Last updated 05:00 21/03/2011
The country could stay in a state of emergency for close to two months as the Government continues to work out how it will drive recovery in Christchurch.

Tensions continue to rise in the city, with protests proposed for today and local meetings reflecting irritation at the inability to get things started again, a month after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key suggested a new government department could be established to lead the recovery, saying no city council in New Zealand had the capability and the bureaucratic support to do what was needed in the next two to five years.

But the final shape of the organisation remains unclear and will not be announced for at least another week. It is likely to take one or two more weeks to get the authority in place.

The state of national emergency cannot be lifted until the recovery organisation is in place and legislation passed.

Christchurch city councillor Yani Johanson said the state of emergency had been warranted because of the huge scale of the damage, but there was now growing frustration about not knowing what was going on.

"What really needs to be made obvious to people is what is the criteria, why is it necessary, and what powers is it taking away from people," Johanson said.

"You can't just get rid of democracy because it's convenient. You actually need to take the public with you."

Johanson spoke at a meeting of inner-city residents yesterday. He said many of them were becoming angry at not being allowed into their homes to collect personal items.

Business owners were also furious about lack if access to their buildings.

"The concern for people is ... if there are essential things that they can get out of their buildings before they are demolished, they want that opportunity," he said.

The body that took responsibility for rebuilding would have to involve central government, but the council should continue its leadership role, Johanson said.

"It's still our city, fundamentally."

Key repeated that the recovery body would be led by central government.

It was likely that Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee would have the support of a government department, which might be newly formed.

Civil Defence Minister John Carter said the national state of emergency would have to continue until the new organisation was in place.

"It's likely to be a little while yet before we get there."

At the weekend, Carter announced the state of national emergency would be extended for another seven days. It was declared on February 23, the day after the quake, and was extended on March 1, 7, 13 and yesterday.

Labour leader Phil Goff said there were some "quite worrying" things going on in the city under the state of national emergency.

"Why the hell are buildings being bowled over without owners being notified?"

Labour would support a powerful group to lead recovery.

"But because you've got special powers and because you can fast-track things, doesn't mean to say that you do things such as unauthorised demolitions.

"You've got to ensure that people living under these regulations have a chance to move forward."

An email circulating among business owners yesterday called on concerned people to rally outside the Civil Defence headquarters in Christchurch this afternoon to protest against demolition without consultation in the central business district.

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