Christchurch city in lock down, thousands of workers, students stuck

A church member on a bus after coming out of the Linwood Mosque that came under attack from gunmen, killing and injuring many.
A church member on a bus after coming out of the Linwood Mosque that came under attack from gunmen, killing and injuring many.

Not since the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 has Christchurch seen such police presence on the streets.

Sirens howled as police sped to various parts of the city.

Shops and schools closed their doors, buses and uber cars were pulled off the streets, and some airline flights cancelled. Helicopters with armed police circled,

Armed police guard a Mosque in Invercargill.
Armed police guard a Mosque in Invercargill.

The security lock down closed large parts of the city. A few backpackers were still on the streets, seemingly oblivious to the tragedy. 

Christchurch Hospital looked like a war scene with blood-soaked victims either carried by stretcher or walking into accident and emergency. Helicopters ferried some of the wounded to other centres.

By late afternoon the heart of the city in Cathedral Square was almost deserted when just two hours earlier thousands of students joined a climate change rally. Some of the students were herded into nearby buildings by police after the shooting began on the other side of Hagley Park. 

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel was among those in lock down at the city council headquarters and said she was "shocked beyond words" by the shootings.

"I would never have expected anything like this to happen in Christchurch, I'd never expect this to happen in New Zealand," she said.

"I am getting messages from around the country, and from around the world. I know that everyone is shocked".

Office worker Frances Adank said thousands of workers were stuck in their buildings awaiting the police go ahead to head home.

"There are no buses so it may be difficult for people trying to get home." 

Buses resumed late afternoon but many routes were delayed and disrupted as buses avoided Christchurch Hospital, Hagley Park, and sections of Riccarton Road and Linwood Ave.

Traffic jams clogged the city once lock downs were lifted, turning a 15-minute ride into a 75-minute journey for some commuters.

All schools, early childhood centres and tertiary institutes in Christchurch were in lock down until about 5.45pm.

Armed police in cars and a helicopter descended on Papanui High School after concerns were raised about a suspicious person nearby.

An image circulated on social media of a man wearing camouflage being arrested outside the school gates. It later became clear he was not involved in the shootings.

Papanui High student Max Stevenson, 16, said he and his classmates were ushered into the nearest classroom when an alarm went off at about 2.30pm.

He said about 30 students and five teachers lay on their stomachs for about 40 minutes until police arrived.

Hundreds of parents waited outside the school gates for their children to be released. Several feared the lock down would create additional traumas for children already suffering earthquake after-effects.

"Christchurch does seem to go through a lot," parent Jason Stevenson said.

A teacher at Hagley College said she had been trapped for nearly four hours with 15 children who were becoming increasingly anxious.

Without access to a toilet, the girls formed a circle around each other so they could relieve themselves on the grass in a courtyard.

Both Westfield Riccarton and Northlands shopping malls closed their doors mid-afternoon, following police advice, until police gave the all clear about 6pm.

Lock downs at Canterbury University and Ara Institute were also lifted just before 6pm. A drop-in centre will be available at the university's Puaka-James Hight Library from 9am to 3pm on Saturday for any staff and students needing support.

Air New Zealand cancelled 17 regional flights because of the absence of security screening, but continued most jet services. Jet Star delayed several flights and cancelled a small number.

Some scheduled flights to and from Melbourne have also been affected.

Flight disruptions are expected to continue into Saturday and passengers are advised to check their flight's status with airlines. Air New Zealand and Jetstar both said they would waive any rebooking fees and fare differences.