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Families flee as shocks hit N. Zealand quake probe
by Staff Writers
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) June 13, 2011

Grieving families of Christchurch earthquake victims were further traumatised Monday when powerful aftershocks sent them fleeing from an inquest into their loved ones' deaths.

The families, who had arrived at the coroner's inquest seeking answers on the collapse of an office block during a deadly 6.3 magnitude quake last February, ended up reliving the horror of the disaster when the tremors hit.

A 5.2-magnitude aftershock rocked the venue at Christchurch's Riccarton Racecourse at 1:00pm (0100GMT), creating a wall of noise as windows rattled and the ground shook.

Lawyers, relatives and media scrambled for safety, eventually regathering to continuing the inquest only for a second, more powerful jolt to strike about 90 minutes later.

"They're a terrible reminder," said Mike Barry, whose sister was killed in February.

Coroner Gordon Matenga eventually postponed the three-day probe until further notice, saying he was concerned about the state of mind of the families.

Matenga had intended to examine the destruction of the Canterbury Television (CTV) building, which collapsed in the February 22 quake claiming more than 100 lives, including at least 65 foreign students, mostly from China and Japan.

The structure's failure accounted for more than half the 181 fatalities in New Zealand's deadliest earthquake for 80 years, raising questions about why the country's stringent building codes failed to prevent the carnage.

"The families are very anxious to know how and why their loved ones died," Marcus Elliott, a lawyer representing some of the relatives, said when the hearing began.

Built in the 1980s, the six-storey building housed the King's Education language school, where foreign students were studying English.

The building's disintegration and a subsequent inferno were so destructive that forensic specialists had to use DNA testing to identify the remains of many victims.

Since the quake, the CTV building collapse has come to symbolise an event that Prime Minister John Key described as "New Zealand's darkest day".

"It was a place where far too many people have lost their lives," Key said in the days after the quake.

"The deaths of so many young students from foreign shores was keenly felt in this country. We know that they were entrusted to the people of New Zealand."

In the quake's aftermath, New Zealand promised Japan and China it would "vigorously" probe the collapse of the building, which city engineers had declared safe after another 7.0 quake rocked Christchurch last September.

The inquest, part of that response, was being held on the outskirts of Christchurch because the city's court buildings remain unusable.

In the few hours before the aftershocks interrupted proceedings, Matenga heard evidence about how some of the victims died after being crushed and burned in the collapse.

But said it was up to a separate royal commission, the most powerful inquiry under New Zealand law, to establish what caused the structure to crash to the ground when many other office blocks escaped with relatively minor damage.

Maan Alkaisi, who lost his wife in the disaster, said the evidence before the curtailed hearing had made relatives more determined than ever to discover what went wrong in the CTV building.

"If you've been in the hearing and you hear how these people have been killed, it's very hard and you don't want this to happen again," he told reporters.

"It's about how to prevent this happening again."

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Quake clean-up begins anew in Christchurch
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) June 14, 2011 - Earthquake-weary Christchurch residents on Tuesday set about cleaning up after a series of powerful tremors, as aftershocks continued to rattle the New Zealand city.

In what has become an all-too familiar routine for a community hit by three major quakes since last September, emergency crews began work at first light to restore power and mop up flooding from pipes burst in a 6.0-magnitude tremor on Monday.

More than 20,000 homes were without electricity on a bitterly cold night when a 4.7-magnitude shake jolted residents awake at 2:48am (1428 Monday GMT).

"A very rough night in the city," Christchurch mayor Bob Parker told Radio New Zealand.

Businessman Joe Arts said more than 50 aftershocks Monday, the strongest the 6.0 tremor at 2:20pm (0220GMT), were a major setback for Christchurch, which is still recovering from a 6.3 quake in February that killed 181 people.

"It's like we've gone backwards," he told AFP as he surveyed his city centre printing shop, which was damaged but remained open after a 7.0 quake in September but has been closed since the February disaster.

"It's over now, I'll just wait for the insurance payout."

At the beachside suburb of Sumner, the wreckage of a house that tumbled down a hill was cordoned off as work began to stabilise other homes teetering precariously on the edge.

The National Crisis Management Centre said there were no reported fatalities from the latest tremors but at least 10 people were injured.

Schools remained closed across the city and a welfare centre was set up in the suburb of Aranui for people unable to return to their homes.

The worst-hit area was the damaged central city known as the red zone, where up to 50 buildings toppled and which remains off-limits to the public following the earlier earthquakes, accounting for Monday's lack of fatalities.

In an outer suburb a block of shops vacant since the February quake collapsed, as did the historic 134-year-old Timeball Station -- which used to indicate the time to ships -- in the port area of Lyttelton.

Elsewhere in Lyttelton, huge chunks of masonry crashed onto the street as shop facades toppled.

Power company Orion said electricity was initially cut to 54,000 homes but the number had been reduced to 20,000 overnight and services should be restored across the city later on Tuesday.

Prime Minister John Key, who grew up in the city, is expected to inspect the latest damage on Tuesday.

Police urged residents to stay at home and avoid travelling if possible, as repairs were made to damaged infrastructure.

"People have been remarkably calm and rational and we hope this continues, despite the stresses everyone is under," district commander Dave Cliff said.

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New quakes rock New Zealand's Christchurch
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) June 13, 2011
A series of strong quakes, including a 6.0-magnitude tremor, rocked New Zealand's Christchurch on Monday, causing one building to collapse and fraying nerves in the stricken city. Prime Minister John Key said power had been cut to some 6,000 homes after the quakes, in which 10 people were injured by falling debris but no-one killed, according to initial figures gathered from emergency person ... read more

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