Picking up the pieces in shaken New Zealand

The New Zealand government has
extended the state of emergency in earthquake-ravaged Christchurch until
Wednesday and appointed a special minister to oversee the recovery effort as
aftershocks continue.

There have been about 100
aftershocks since Saturday’s 7.1-magnitude earthquake with some hitting a
magnitude of five.

About 100,000 homes were damaged by
the earthquake, hundreds of families are staying in shelters, and 3,500 people
are still in their homes without power.

Health authorities say there are
reports of gastroenteritis in the community, with fears the sewerage system has
been contaminated.

Officials are urging people to boil
their drinking water and dispose of sewage correctly to limit the spread of

The epicentre of the earthquake was
at Darfield, some 24 miles away from the centre of Christchurch, and many communities
within that radius have been affected.

Repairs are expected to cost at
least $2 billion – cabinet Tuesday decided to release $80 million immediately
for emergency road works, and earmarked $5 million to help quake-affected
residents who are not insured.

Prime Minister John Key says
everyone who needs help will get it, but the bill is certain to run into
billions for an economy that is just coming out of recession.

Christchurch’s central business
district is still in somewhat of a lockdown and barriers are being built around
90 buildings at risk of collapse.

Eighty soldiers have taken control
of the city centre to relieve exhausted emergency services personnel while
electricity is gradually being restored.

A judge has warned that anyone
caught looting will be dealt with harshly by the courts.

A curfew has been lifted and there
will be limited bus services to take workers into the city today, Tuesday, and
it appears some schools will start to reopen on Wednesday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs
and Trade has set up a 24-hour emergency number for those who cannot contact
friends or relatives in the Christchurch area. The number is 1300 555 135.


A building damaged by the quake.
Photo: Guardian.co.uk