Twin tremors rattle New Zealand again

The people of Christchurch face the cruellest of Christmases, praying they will not fall victim to another deadly earthquake after their city was rattled by two giant tremors yesterday. The 5.8 and 6.0-magnitude quakes hit New Zealand's second-largest city within an hour during the peak of Christmas shopping. They sent people fleeing into the streets, many in tears.

Shaken to its core: Residents attempt to free a car trapped in a
liquefaction sinkhole after the city was struck by a fresh swarm of
powerful tremors. Pic/AFP

Some, attending work Christmas functions, poured outside wearing Santa hats. A series of quakes continued to shake the city into the night.

The quakes cut power to more than 15,000 homes, caused liquefaction and flooding in the city's east and revived traumatic memories of the February earthquake that left the city in ruins and killed 181 people.

Mayor Bob Parker said, "It has been one hell of a day. My heart just breaks; so many people have been through so much. You can't underestimate the ongoing stress this has on people."

The quakes injured only two people and inflicted little damage to city buildings but they will have a devastating psychological impact on Christchurch's 3,50,000 residents, who have endured more than 7,500 earthquakes since September last year.

After a period of relatively seismological calm over the past two months, they had begun to hope that the worst was over.

Christchurch City Councillor Aaron Keown said, "It was a really big shock because I think a lot of people thought they were all over. You can see a lot of people are quite visibly shaken. You can see they're thinking, 'oh, here we go again'."

One in 10 residents is preparing to leave the region as it has become increasingly difficult to rebuild property and then insure it, say worried economists.

181 The number of people who died in the February earthquake that shook the city

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