PM sees suburbs' 'utter devastation'

By Paul Harper, NZPA

Prime Minister John Key helps out the Farmy Army volunteers at Linwood College today. Photo / NZPA
Prime Minister John Key helps out the Farmy Army volunteers at Linwood College today. Photo / NZPA

Prime Minister John Key saw for himself today the devastation wrought by last week's earthquake in Christchurch's eastern suburbs and acknowledged the hardship faced by residents.

Many have complained about the lack of basic services, such as power, water and portable toilets, and feel they have been forgotten about by the authorities.

They face a tough weekend with a cold southerly due to sweep over the city tomorrow afternoon, dropping temperatures to under 10degC at night.

Some people are homeless and the Government has negotiated for caravan parks to be made available, while a temporary tent village that can house 400 people is being organised.

Mr Key flew over the quake-stricken suburbs in an air force helicopter, landing at a park to talk to people in suburban Bexley, where the liquefaction is worst, about their plight.

"Obviously it is utter devastation, you can see the enormity of the task in front of the services here," he told reporters at the Bexley power substation this afternoon.

"You can see the enormity of the services here. It's not just a simple matter of plugging back in the power - you've got breakages to cables all over the show. You've got houses literally under sand.

"Civil Defence has given me an assurance that they have done everything they can. The people I've met this morning are going through tremendous hardship so our sympathy has to go them."

He acknowledged that residents in the city's eastern suburbs may have felt they were missing out.

But saving 70 lives from the wreckage of the city centre had been the most important task for Civil Defence and emergency services, he said.

"Obviously what has dominated things is the Urban Search and Rescue and we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that a couple of hundred people have lost their lives."

Mr Key responded to ongoing criticism about the placement of portaloos in the suburbs, saying Civil Defence had assured him they had placed them "as best as they saw fit".

More toilets would arrive soon to areas in need, he said.

"I think pretty much every portaloo in Australasia is on its way."

"You can appreciate what they are going through - basic things like toilets, water and power are necessities of life. At the end of the day, we can appreciate their issues. It is a matter of resources."

Civil Defence boss John Hamilton said more than 1000 portaloos were distributed across Christchurch yesterday and a further 62 would be sent out today, with 960 more on order.

He said 1750 chemical toilets were delivered into the city's eastern areas yesterday and a further 3500 were expected next week while another 20,000 were on order.

A mobile 18-stand shower unit would go to areas where there were no water services.

Welfare centres had been set up to get people in badly damaged areas through the first days after last week's earthquake, Mr Key said.

"This is a disaster that has wreaked havoc on the city. No-one underestimated any of that, but there have been welfare centres set up to accommodate anyone that needs that support. We are not leaving anyone isolated on their own. There is plenty of support for them.

Mr Key said residents he had spoken to had been supportive and grateful for the help they had received.

"People that have come up to us, I don't know any of them, but they have all been supportive and actually thankful for what is going on. The reality is the most critical thing we can do is restore power and sewerage."

Mr Key today said an inquiry into the earthquake and details of a national day of remembrance would be discussed at the weekly cabinet meeting on Monday.

He also said his family had suffered in the Christchurch earthquake.

His sister's house was severely damaged and is likely to be demolished, while two of her friends died in the aftermath of the quake, he said.

Civil Defence has revamped its welfare centres and Pioneer Stadium, which can accommodate up to 600 people, will be the only one open full-time.

In the central city, search and rescue teams have made solid progress clearing the main buildings.

Two bodies were removed from the Pyne Gould Corporation building overnight and the search there was now complete, Fire Service search co-ordinator Paul Baxter said.

The deconstruction of the CTV buildings, where up to 100 people are believed to have been killed, should be completed in two or three days time, he said.

Major clearing work was taking place at the ChristChurch Cathedral and Forsyth Barr sites.

Cordon to be reduced

The cordon blocking off central Christchurch after last week's destructive earthquake will be reduced on Sunday.

The CBD sustained massive damage in the shallow 6.3 earthquake which hit at 12.51pm, on February 22.

Civil Defence head John Hamilton said today four green zones had been established at the edge of the cordon area and two of those would be open to the public at 2pm on Sunday.

Residents and business owners would be able to access the cordons from 8am to secure their properties, Mr Hamilton told a press conference late this afternoon.

They would need to take identification and proof of address to gain access.

One zone was bordered by Rolleston Ave, Armagh St, Durham St and Moorhouse Ave, the other bordered by Fitzgerald Ave, Moorhouse Ave, Barbadoes St and Oxford Tce.

There would be a 30kmh speed limit in the areas.

Information centres would be set up in each zone for residents and business owners to find out more about essential services, welfare and structural building issues, Mr Hamilton said.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the roads in the area were still badly damaged and "dangerous".

"We're not in a position where having people coming in just to have a look at what has happened is a safe or a good thing to do.

"It will clutter the roads up. It will create more dust and frankly it's something that for the people who live in those areas, they find more than annoying. They actually find it quite upsetting at this time."

A walk to see the worst earthquake damage would be held some time during the next couple of weeks to help Christchurch residents grieve, Mr Parker said.

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