Distressed residents flee New Zealand quake city
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 23, 2011
Vanessa Burgess's children had only just started sleeping in their own beds again after a major September earthquake when a 6.3-magnitude tremor hit, bringing their nightmares back.
"It's crazy, nerve-wracking, my nerves are just... I've just been shaking all day, I haven't eaten," said Burgess at Christchurch airport, where she had set up a makeshift camp awaiting a flight out of the city.
"Just being here makes it easier, being with all these people, it takes your mind off it. When you're alone you feel every single aftershock."
Burgess is among hundreds crowding the airport hoping to escape the city of 390,000, where Tuesday's horror earthquake levelled high rises, killing at least 76 with hundreds feared missing.
Power and water are out across vast parts of Christchurch and the central business district resembles a war zone, with rubble heaped on cars and twisted steel protruding from crushed concrete.
The tremor, which comes just months after September's huge 7.0-magnitude quake shattered 100,000 homes across Christchurch, damaged the city's air traffic control tower which is New Zealand's main radar spire.
The damage threw the nation's air schedule into chaos, with cancellations and delays leaving families and tourists facing long waits in Christchurch's international arrivals hall.
Major airlines have put on extra services to help people get out of the besieged city and bring international rescue teams in, prompting check-in machines to collapse under to the pressure.
One official estimates the crowd at quadruple that seen on an average day.
But despite the chaos, the airport has become a refuge for many, offering luxuries such as running water and electricity.
Others, like German tourists Franzi Kuhnt and Sarah Lindenborn, had no choice -- they arrived back at their hostel to find it crushed, and plan to spend the final days of their holiday camping in the terminal.
They had been driving around the South Island in a campervan and were just heading back into Christchurch when the quake hit, bouncing them along the road.
As aftershocks continued to topple debris, local residents urged the pair to shelter in their van until dawn.
"I was really afraid, it was just shaking the whole time," said Kuhnt of their sleepless night.
Burgess's husband is an urban rescue squad member who since the quake hit has been in the thick of it in the devastated city centre, searching for survivors to pull from the rubble.
He has returned home only briefly, to snatch a few disturbed hours of sleep, and so she had been left alone with her children Noah, seven, and Daisy, three, to weather the aftershocks rolling through their home.
She is waiting to get to New Zealand's main city of Auckland for a reprieve from the shaking of the walls, and her hands.
Her children know the drill so well -- "get under the desk, be like a turtle" -- that earthquakes now haunt their dreams.
"After the first earthquake, the oldest one's only just stopped having nightmares. That's why I thought I'd get them away from it, I don't want them to get frightened again," she said.
"Our flight's been delayed but that's OK. I don't care, we're getting out of here. And we don't have return tickets."
September's quake, and the thousands of aftershocks that have shaken the city since, had already left nerves frayed even before Tuesday's massive tremor.
One shellshocked woman wept in the ticket queue, a trolley laden with all her worldly possessions including a very frightened eight-month-old kitten, desperate to get to relatives in Auckland.
The woman's house was destroyed while she, on the upper levels of a downtown building, witnessed unspeakable horrors.
"I saw a lot of things and I don't want to remember them. I just want to get out of here to be honest, I feel like I'm losing it completely," sobbed the woman, who did not want to give her name.
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Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 24, 2011
An English language school in earthquake-hit Christchurch said Thursday that 48 students and staff, including at least 10 Japanese, were missing after the disaster. Kings Education, which was based in a building flattened in the 6.3 magnitude tremor, released the names of staff and students on its website, saying the list was compiled with the aid of witnesses and education authorities. ... read more
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