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Aftershocks put N. Zealand quake city rebuild on hold
by Staff Writers
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 19, 2012

Aftershocks expose remains in N. Zealand graves: report
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 19, 2012 - Constant aftershocks in Christchurch have pushed human remains up from burial plots in one of the quake-ravaged New Zealand city's graveyards, a report said Sunday.

In a grim reminder that the ground in Christchurch remains unstable 12 months on from a quake that killed 185 people last year, television images showed what appeared to be human bones in the city's Bromley Cemetery.

The remains, possibly rib and leg bones, were on the top of burial plots found by a group of people visiting the graveyard on Sunday, TV3 reported.

One of the group, Cassie, said at least 10 graves were affected.

Christchurch City Council told the television station it was the first report it had received of remains being disinterred by the aftershocks, some 10,000 of which have rocked the city since September 2010.

The aftershocks, which have delayed the city's NZ$30 billion ($24.5 billion) reconstruction, push sand and silt from the swampy Christchurch ground in a process called liquefaction.

The Bromley Cemetery opened in 1918 and all its burial plots are now full, according to the council's website.

Dangerous aftershocks have left the battered city of Christchurch struggling to rebuild 12 months after a devastating earthquake and raised doubts over its economic future.

Much of the downtown area was destroyed and remains sealed off following the 6.3-magnitude quake on February 22 last year, which killed 185 people as it flattened office blocks, buckled roads and brought historic buildings crashing down.

Hotels and shops lie empty behind the wire-mesh fences of the "red zone", which covers most of the central business area -- a ghost town of broken buildings and vacant lots with weeds poking out from exposed foundations.

The only sound of activity from within is the crash of rubble being dumped into skips as workers still toil to clear debris from the historic precinct which was once the pride of New Zealand's second largest city.

Plans are afoot for a NZ$30 billion ($24.5 billion) rebuilding programme, the largest construction effort in the country's history, to restore Christchurch to its former glory as capital of the South Island.

But constant seismic activity has frustrated the effort, with about 10,000 aftershocks recorded since September 2010, when a 7.0-magnitude quake on a previously unknown fault line began what has become a trial of endurance for the city.

No-one was killed in that quake and reconstruction was well under way before the deadly February tremor hit, lower in magnitude but shallower and with an epicentre much closer to the city centre's already weakened buildings.

Since then, there have been major aftershocks in June and December, the most recent sending terrified Christmas shoppers fleeing from stores in panic and adding more damage to the scarred city, further delaying reconstruction.

More than 60 percent of the old buildings that defined Christchurch, creating what locals called "a little slice of England", have been lost and many more are severely damaged and need expensive reinforcement.

Win Clark of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering said most, with the possible exception of landmark buildings such as the Anglican cathedral, would not be rebuilt because of the danger they posed.

Some have suggested simply shifting the entire CBD elsewhere to more stable ground but Clark said that was impractical.

"The problem there is that there's a very large investment in infrastructure -- buildings, water supply, power, sewerage, all types," he said.

"It's been damaged but to build a new city you would have to start over again from scratch at colossal cost."

Mayor Bob Parker last year released the local council's vision for the future, a low-rise central business district serviced by light rail with environmentally friendly buildings and large areas of parkland.

The council wants a seven-storey high limit, saying traumatised workers do not want to return to high-rise office blocks, which were the cause of most deaths when they catastrophically failed in the February shake.

Clark was sympathetic but said modern building methods using techniques such as deep foundations meant there was no engineering reason preventing the immediate construction of large buildings.

"The fact that we're going to get further aftershocks should not stop current redevelopment," he said.

New Zealand Institute of Economic Research principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub warned excessive restrictions could prompt investors to take their capital elsewhere, to cities such as Auckland, and residents would follow.

He was also concerned that ongoing delays partially blamed on infighting among officials -- Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee recently labelled Parker a "clown" -- was paralysing the city's regeneration.

Eaqub said 30,000 jobs had been lost in Christchurch over the past year and the longer the rebuild took, the more difficult it would be for the city to regain its mantle as an economic powerhouse.

A worst case scenario, he said, could see Christchurch -- which before the quake was the hub of a region responsible for 15 percent of New Zealand's economy -- reduced to a "rural service town".

"We're at a fork in the road and it's not really clear which of things (rebuilding plans) are working and which are not," he said, adding that the issue had implications for the wider economy.

"We just haven't had enough time to gauge some of these plans but it feels like the urgency of the situation is certainly heightening."

Amid the gloom, however, an innovative retail project just outside the red zone offers a glimpse of the dynamism Christchurch is hoping to harness in the rebuild, which is now not expected to be fully under way until next year.

Re:START is a temporary shopping centre built entirely from shipping containers, with banks, fashion boutiques, coffee shops and a post office housed in brightly coloured -- and earthquake-safe -- boxes.

"People think it's really cool," said coffee shop worker Jan-eve Burns. "It's the first time for a while that something has put a bit of life back into the city centre and Christchurch really needed it."

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Philippine quake toll rises to 113 dead and missing
Manila (AFP) Feb 19, 2012 - The toll of dead and missing from a powerful earthquake that struck the Philippines has risen to 113 as the civil defence chief said Sunday he had given up all hope of finding any more survivors.

Benito Ramos, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council chief, told AFP the latest toll from the 6.7 magnitude quake which struck the central island of Negros on February 6 was 52 dead and 61 missing.

He added that army engineers were continuing to dig on the heavily-populated island because of the clamour of people insisting that the bodies of their relatives be found.

"It is hopeless. I don't think we can find all the 61 missing because of the amount of soil that eroded. That is equivalent to about 50 metres (164 feet) thick of earth," he said.

"But I will not say they are already dead because of the sentiments of the people. There are so many who will shower me with protests if we declare them already dead," he added

Ramos said the excavation work was ongoing despite dangers of further landslides caused by aftershocks and heavy rain.

More than 191,000 people were displaced by the quake after landslides buried homes. Almost 24,000 are still huddled in government evacuation centres, the disaster council said.

The Philippines sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" -- a belt around the Pacific Ocean where friction between shifting tectonic plates causes frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity.


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Fukushima at increased earthquake risk
Tokyo, Japan (SPX) Feb 16, 2012
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