Christchurch earthquake: Demolitions key to CBD access
The central Christchurch cordon could shrink as early as today, but the heart of the city will stay closed for up to six months until the Hotel Grand Chancellor is demolished.
The 26-storey hotel is set for demolition now that it has been cleared of having any survivors or bodies trapped inside.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said yesterday that when the hotel, along with some other tall buildings with a "challenging future", could be brought down would dictate when the central city reopened.
"There are a large number of buildings in the city that are fundamentally unsafe, so there is a step-by-step process here," Brownlee said.
There would be "widespread demolitions" in the city once it was clear that there were no bodies trapped in buildings.
"We're a very long way from being out of a state of civil emergency," he said.
Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale said this week that much of the inner city could remain closed until Christmas.
Brownlee said the cordon would be gradually brought in, probably within the next couple of days.
"But right in town, no-one should be holding out any hope that they're going to get in there for several weeks longer."
It was "probably desirable" that demolitions were done under a state of civil emergency "because you do need to corral off parts of the city" while buildings were brought down.
He would not be drawn on how long the state of emergency would stay in place, but the "very extensive" damage to parts of residential Christchurch was another important consideration.
"You've got to ask yourself a very serious question about whether or not you go back to business as usual. The likelihood of going back to business as usual is not looking very high on the cards for quite some time."
He said it would not be helpful to lift the state of emergency while it remained useful in speeding up moves to make people safe.
Prime Minister John Key said it could be "at least six months" for the biggest buildings to be demolished. "The removal of the buildings, the sheer number of them and the amount of time that will take is not insignificant."
Narrowing the cordon was "the most immediate step" that could be taken.
Key will today travel through the hard-hit eastern suburbs.
Extra portaloos and two power generators were rushed to the area yesterday after criticism that not enough resources were being directed there.
Key said it had been "a very difficult environment" in the city since the quake.
"All of the authorities have been working on a huge number of issues at one time, and obviously with the significant loss of life in the CBD it's been appropriate to prioritise that area," he said.
"I've sought assurances from our people that every effort is going into Bexley and the areas out east."