Christchurch earthquake: The psychological impact

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A Red Cross worker sleeps at the Civil Defence Emergency Centre. Photo / Greg Bowker
A Red Cross worker sleeps at the Civil Defence Emergency Centre. Photo / Greg Bowker

As the drama of the initial event dissipates, aftershocks - actual, emotional and economic - can continue to rattle the affected area, unnerving earthquake-wary residents.

Wellington seismologist Dr Warwick Smith cautions actual aftershocks are likely to last for weeks rather than days but will get less frequent and probably weaker.

Dr Lyndy Matthews, chairwoman of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' New Zealand committee, said although it was important that emotional help was available, revisiting the traumatic events through "debriefing" could compound the trauma.

Children are especially vulnerable and in the aftermath of the September 2010 Canterbury quake reports emerged of youngsters so traumatised they broke down at the slightest noise. Others were too scared to go to sleep at night.

The Ministry of Education website says most children and young people won't need professional counselling but reassurance and information from people they know and trust.

Returning to some sense of routine can provide comfort and support in what can be uncertain times.

The economic recovery is perhaps more straightforward.

Civil Defence staff, with police and engineers, assess damage and cordon off unsafe areas. It is vital Civil Defence instructions are obeyed, whether they involve steering clear of a restricted area, staying off roads or boiling drinking water. Keep abreast of announcements regarding school and business closures. If in doubt, ring and ask for information.

The Government's Earthquake Commission (EQC) provides natural disaster insurance to residential property owners. It forks out for the first $100,000 of claims for home damages and the first $20,000 on contents claims. Private insurers are responsible for settling claims in excess of these amounts, as well as any commercial claims. Claims can be lodged by calling the EQC's free phone number, 0800 DAMAGE/326 243. Claims can also be lodged online at www.eqc.govt.nz. Claims can made up to three months after the event.

If you rent your property, contact your landlord and your insurance company as soon as possible. If you do not have insurance, contact the EQC regardless and your details will be passed on to the relevant authorities.

If immediate action is needed, take photos before moving anything and keep a copy of the bill for claims.

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