'Shocks could trigger exodus'

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 05:00 03/01/2012
Aftershocks
MARK CORNELL/Fairfax NZ

Aftershocks in January 2012

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A series of aftershocks to begin 2012 could be the last straw for some earthquake-weary Christchurch residents, Mayor Bob Parker says.

The region was yesterday hit by dozens of quakes, the largest a magnitude-5.5 shake shortly before 6am. All were centred at sea off New Brighton.

After a disturbed night, Cantabrians endured more shaking throughout the day including a strongly felt 4.8 aftershock about 7pm, centred 20 kilometres east of Christchurch out to sea and 15km deep.

The 15km-deep 6am quake cut power to thousands of Christchurch homes for about two hours, but caused no significant damage to buildings.

Police southern communications team leader Hemi Waretine said the 4.8 aftershock at 7pm also did not cause any extra damage.

Yesterday's shaking came after seismic activity that has increased since December 23, when magnitude 5.8 and 6.0 quakes struck.

Parker said most residents he had spoken to had taken the quakes in their stride.

"Town was bustling and it felt like the city was coping pretty well. People aren't enjoying the loss of sleep, but it is, apparently, very much the aftershock process we are part of," he said.

But he conceded it would be the "last straw" for some people.

"My view is we give as much support to those people who feel the need to move on," he said. "People must make that call for their own wellbeing, and nobody would criticise a single person for doing that."

Christchurch psychologist Paul Neilson said the "vigilance to threat" had returned after decreasing since the June aftershocks.

"Christmas and New Year would have been a further distraction, and that probably has elevated the fear response," he said.

Residents were better equipped to deal with the stress after 15 months of quakes, Neilson said.

He urged those affected to maintain routines, communicate with friends and family, and seek help if needed.

Parker said GNS scientists would meet councillors and the media on Friday to provide information about the "unusual" quake sequence.

"What we now seem to have is something which is more complex, and people are asking more and more questions around, `What is going on, what is the nature of this event and is there anything we can compare it with?"' he said.

"A number of people have said to me that they feel like they're not getting the full story.

"I don't believe that is the case, but I also believe that it's important for our scientists to front up for us to have a chance to get a full briefing as a community."

Fears that a tsunami and larger quakes could be triggered had been raised by residents, but the tsunami threat was "highly unlikely".

"The advice we have received from GNS is that the faults offshore are short in length and not likely to generate a significant tsunami," Parker said.

For those feeling distressed or overwhelmed by the aftershocks, the Canterbury support line can be contacted every day between 8am and 11pm on 0800 777 846.

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