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City in lockdown as families count cost of earthquake terror

The state of emergency in Christchurch, New Zealand has been extended until Wednesday as the city continues clean-up operations after Saturday's 7.1 magnitude earthquake amid continuing after-shocks and heavy rain.

Much of the once beautiful city remains in lockdown after structural engineers moving through the buildings of the central business district said many of them were too dangerous to return to.

Army troops took control of the centre of the city to help police secure streets and badly damaged businesses.

A 12-hour curfew covering the centre of New Zealand's second largest city has been lifted but much of the area resembles a ghost town with only police and emergency services personnel moving through the streets.

At least 500 buildings, including 90 in the downtown area, were designated as destroyed by the quake that struck at 4.35am on Saturday just 19 miles from the South Island city of 400,000 people. Most other buildings sustained only minor damage.

The quake cut power across the region, buckled roads and fractured water and sewage pipes but by this morning services were being restored.

Power was back to 90pc of the city and water supply had resumed for all but 15 to 20pc of residents. Portable toilets have been provided and tanks of fresh water placed around the city for residents.

Predicted hurricane force winds did not come but heavy rain brought fears of flooding at high tide later in the day. Civil defence officials warned that flood protector banks weakened by the quake might fail to hold rising waters. Engineers were inspecting the banks today.

Around 150 people have been evacuated from a trailer park near the Waimakariri River as a precaution.

High winds overnight downed trees and power lines, knocking out power and blocking roads, but officials said it was not as severe as feared and no new serious damage had affected quake-hit buildings. Panes of glass were seen falling from damaged buildings and falling debris remained a concern, said police chief Superintendent Dave Cliff.

Only two serious injuries were reported from the quake as it occurred before dawn when most of the city's residents were sleeping.

Prime Minister John Key said it was a miracle that no-one had been killed.

"If this had happened five hours earlier or five hours later (when many more people were in the city), there would have been absolute carnage in terms of human life," he said.

This morning his cabinet convened to discuss the government's response, including sharing the cost of fixing local infrastructure, such as rail, road and water, with local government, which normally pay.

"We can't expect them to pick up that tab twice," said Mr Key.

Mr Key said his cabinet would also appoint a civil defence commissioner to oversee reconstruction and aid. "This isn't a short-term thing," he said.

The Earthquake Commission expects claims from at least 100,000 households to cost NZ$1bn (£560m). The Government will have to decide if it gives help to people without insurance, which Mr Key said was "a moral hazard".


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