'Sad and bleak day' for South Island - PM

BY DAVID WILLIAMS
Last updated 02:00 05/09/2010

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Prime Minister John Key has described September 4, 2010, as a "sad and bleak day" after the massive earthquake in Christchurch and the plane crash which claimed nine lives at Fox Glacier.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard phoned Key yesterday to express her concerns. Key said the country was devastated by both the Fox Glacier plane crash and the worst earthquake in decades.

"It's a very, very sad and bleak day for the South Island."

After touring the devastation across Christchurch yesterday afternoon, including a close-up view of fire officers tackling an inner-city blaze, Key said the scale of the damage was "very frightening".

"The only conclusion you can draw is that it's a miracle nobody was killed," he said.

"Parts of the city look like they've been put in the tumble dryer and been given a darn good shake."

Downtown Christchurch was a ghost town last night, he said, and quite a number of buildings would be condemned and knocked down.

The army will be deployed in the city on Monday, after a request from Christchurch mayor Bob Parker, and last night 80 police officers arrived from Auckland to enforce a central city curfew from 7pm to 7am.

Key said a curfew made sense, given the terrible state of disrepair some buildings were in and the inability to properly assess them.

Two seriously injured people were in hospital last night.

"There'll be a lot of people absolutely amazed that no one's lost their lives," Key said.

"We saw a taxi on Manchester St which was completely destroyed and I understand the taxi driver was quite seriously injured."

Key said Civil Defence and supporting bodies had done a tremendous job.

"They've had every aspect covered, from the welfare of citizens, helping out those that are isolated and on their own, particularly older citizens, right through to thinking about how they're going to deal with all of the different issues that are going to present themselves."

The Earthquake Commission had $15 billion in assets to deal with Treasury's estimated $2b clean-up bill, the prime minister said, but that only covered private citizens with insurance, and did not include local government infrastructure.

It could take months to realise the total extent of the damage, he said. "What we can see superficially is significant, but it's what's below the surface – water and wastewater infrastructure in particular."

Key said he visited Christchurch to show central government would support local government and the Canterbury people.

"This is home to the better part of half a million people and there's clearly very, very substantial damage."

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Key will return to Christchurch later this week.

He told Q+A this morning he will likely go on Tuesday afternoon. "Relevant Ministers" would accompany him, he said.

Mr Key returned to Auckland fron the quake-ravaged city last night.

He said Cabinet would be briefed by the civil defence minister tomorrow. It was likely the Government would contribute to the mayoral fund, he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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