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Auckland's population is expected to swell by up to 21,000 as exhausted Christchurch residents flee damaged homes and aftershocks.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has estimated that up to 70,000 people - about one-fifth of his city's pre-quake population - have left.

It is believed that one-third of evacuees will end up in Auckland.

Many are staying with friends and family but hundreds of others have needed help with accommodation.

Auckland Council's Civil Defence team has set up three reception centres - at Auckland Airport, Lambie Drive in Manukau, and Whenuapai - to help. More than 2000 have registered at the centres.

Manukau manager Bill Morley said the majority of refugees needed help with housing and were being put up in motels and hotels.

"They really are desperate, these people. They don't have anything. A lot of them are in a terrible state. You can see when you are talking to them that they are just lost."

Auckland Council's Civil Defence controller, Clive Manley, said: "We are expecting an ongoing arrival of people from Christchurch - some for respite or short-term stays, some in transit, and some long-term stay or permanent relocation."

Mr Manley said 1192 people had been provided with accommodation.

He said there were predictions Auckland's population would increase by up to 21,000, resulting in increased demand for housing, education, welfare and employment.

Nearly 400 children have been re-enrolled in Auckland schools.

Figures from Christchurch Airport suggest the number of people fleeing the city is nearly matched by those arriving.

Last week, Air NZ flew more than 65,000 people out of the city, but also took around 50,000 people to it on domestic flights. Jetstar flew about 10,000 people in and another 10,000 people out.

An airport spokeswoman said many of the people coming into the city were local residents who were away when the quake happened and were trying to get back to loved ones. Others were friends and family.

There were also large numbers of volunteers, rescue workers and helpers, including more than 900 people who had been helping with the rescue effort.