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At about 12:51 pm on February 22, 2001, an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale struck New Zealand. The epicenter of the earthquake that affected New Zealand's South Island was located in the Canterbury region, about 1.2 miles (two kilometers) west of the port town, Lyttelton, and about six miles (ten kilometers) to the south-east of the city of Christchurch. It was at a depth of at a depth of about three miles (five kilometers) from the surface. The tremors were felt throughout the South Island and in the south-central regions of the North Island of New Zealand.

The earthquake on February 22, 2011, was the second major earthquake to affect the Canterbury region within six months. The previous earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale struck on September 4, 2010. The quake caused severe damage to life and property in Christchurch, the second- largest city of New Zealand in terms of population.

With over 181 people killed, including the nationals of twenty countries, the earthquake has been the ranked second among the natural disasters affecting New Zealand going by the toll taken. The Napier earthquake of 1931 with a death toll of 256 was the deadliest. Following the earthquake, the country remained in a state of national emergency till April 30, 2011.

Causalities and Damages

The earthquake caused untold damage to the lives and properties of the people of Christchurch and neighboring regions. Over 181 people were reported dead as a result of the February 22 earthquake. About 2000 people were also reported to have been injured in the calamity. 50,000 homes lost their power supply that night with temperatures taking a drastic dip. The Christchurch Cathedral spire and the TVNZ building collapsed and most roads were damaged. The earthquake damaged water pipes and caused a scarcity of drinking water. JP Morgan Stanley Chase estimated the earthquake to be the third costliest with total losses amounting to about US $12 billion. Residents have been forced to move out of the red, earth-quake prone zone.

The economy of Christchurch has been severely affected due to the spate of earthquakes that have struck the region since February 22, 2010. As on September 30, 2011, over 8900 citizens have left their homes and moved out of the city. The services and hospitality sectors of the city were the worst affected. While the February earthquake is estimated to have destroyed about 30,000 homes, the city's business district faced severe damages as well. Travel and tourism to New Zealand have been adversely affected as a result of the tremors thus affecting the national economy.

The government of New Zealand estimated damages from the quake amounting to about NZ $20 billion. The rebuilding costs shot up by an additional NZ $6 billion due to the damages resulting from the June quakes. The New Zealand dollar experienced a dip vis-à-vis the US dollar as a result of the catastrophic earthquake. The New Zealand census planned for March 2011 has been cancelled as a result of the earthquake. The next census has been scheduled for March 2013. The census of New Zealand was cancelled on two other occasions, during the Great Depression of 1931 and during World War II in 1941.

Rescue Operations

Early rescue operations in Christchurch were carried out by the city police and emergency services. The police ferried injured people in their cars. Rescue operations centered on the Pine Gould building. Over twenty-two people were killed in the collapse of the city's cathedral spire. The Christchurch Hospital required partial evacuation but remained open to treat the affected people. With the collapse of the Canterbury Television building about 166 people were reported dead and about ninety-four were rescued from under the rubble.

Most of the buildings on the main street of Lyttelton town were damaged. Three people were reported dead due to landslides caused by the earthquake in Sumner. Many residents of Sumner were evacuated by the fire officers. The 111 emergency network and the Christchurch International Airport were shut down for a short while.


A number of aftershocks have rocked the region since the first quake on February 22, 2010. On the same day about five aftershocks, each measuring 5 ML and above, shook Christchurch and Lyttelton slowing down the rescue process. The following are a list of aftershocks that struck the Christchurch and the surrounding region between February 22, 2011 and June 12, 2011.

Date Time Magnitude (ML)
February 22, 2011 12:51 6.3
February 22, 2011 13:04 5.8
February 22, 2011 14:50 5.9
February 22, 2011 14:51 5.1
February 22, 2011 16:04 5.0
February 22, 2011 19:43 5.0
March 5, 2011 19:34 5.0
March 20, 2011 21:47 5.1
April 16, 2011 17:49 5.3
April 30, 2011 19:04 5.2
May 10, 2011 3:04 5.3
June 6, 2011 9:09 5.5

On June 13, 2011, four major earthquakes again struck the region at 1 pm, 2:20 pm, 2:40 pm, and at 3:08 pm. The earthquakes measured 5.5, 6.0, 4.9, and 3.7 respectively on the Richter scale. The Insurance Australia Group Limited estimated claims amounting to US $61.5 million resulting from these quakes. Over forty-six people were injured and one was reported dead, though the cause of death is still uncertain. A series of aftershocks and tremors have hit the region between June and December 2011.

Rebuilding Christchurch

Following the February 22, 2011 earthquake, the government of New Zealand announced the establishment of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, CERA. The CERA is likely to operate for about five years and oversee the recovery and rebuilding operations while working with the government, local authorities, and the people of Canterbury region.

As of October 31, 2011, about seventy-one foreign nationals including forty Britons have been issued visas to work in New Zealand in projects associated with rebuilding the region. On January 1, 2011, the Christchurch City Council formally adopted the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild plan to make the new constructions which are earthquake resistant.

Rebuilding Christchurch is one of the primary issues of the 2011 New Zealand general elections. The Green Party of Aotearoa has proposed the imposition of a one time earthquake levy but the government is not in support of the idea.

Last Updated on: September 30th, 2021
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