Help for Christchurch businesses and workers after earthquake

A inquiry will be ordered into Christchurch's collapsed buildings as questions mount over the number of lives lost.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed the inquiry yesterday after unveiling a temporary rescue package for businesses and employees as estimates of the number of jobs affected by the February 22 earthquake reach 42,000.

Businesses will get $500 gross a week for each full-time employee, which will be paid to the affected worker. For part-time workers, the payment will be $300 a week.

Mr Key said the payment was to keep businesses "connected" with their staff while they made decisions about their future.

Workers who lost their jobs to the quake would receive $400 a week.

Mr Key said the scheme would continue for six weeks while the Government worked out a longer-term rescue package, but he did not rule out extending it after then. It is expected to cost up to $120 millon, compared with the $10.7m cost of the 2010 earthquake package.

Mr Key urged workers able to go back to work to do so, as long as it was safe for them or their families. That was the best thing they could do to help Christchurch recover.

"This is a broken city, but one that we need to repair. We need people to be able to go back to work."

Cabinet met yesterday to consider the cost of the earthquake, which is expected to hit $20 billion up front, even before the major loss of economic activity is taken into account.

"This is something like five to eight times more significant to the New Zealand economy in a financial impact than arguably Hurricane Katrina," Mr Key said.

The aim of yesterday's package was to "immediately put money in people's pockets, give them some confidence and also give us a chance to frame up the policies that we think are important as we go to the next stage of helping the recovery effort in Christchurch," Mr Key said.

The Government was still trying to assess the extent of the damage and is awaiting an economic impact report from Treasury this week.

Meanwhile, no decisions had been made on where to house people who had been displaced by the earthquake or where to relocate the CBD as a temporary measure.

But Mr Key confirmed that he had already asked officials to look at the shape of an inquiry into how the city coped with the earthquake, including questions around why some buildings claimed so many lives.

Buildings constructed in recent times had held up well, but buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s had collapsed causing "excessive loss of life".

Some of those buildings had been signed off as safe after the last earthquake.

"We will want to get some immediate information on those buildings and the Department of Building and Housing have been undertaking some immediate work."

But there had to be an inquiry "to provide answers to people about why so many people lost their lives" and what lessons could be learnt.