New Zealand lifts emergency in quake-hit Christchurch
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Sept 16, 2010
New Zealand on Thursday lifted a state of emergency in quake-hit Christchurch as widespread damage prompted the central bank to leave rates on hold.
Officials said New Zealand's second-largest city was moving into recovery mode after the 7.0 magnitude quake, which hit just before dawn on September 4 -- the most powerful to hit the country in almost 80 years.
A civil defence spokesman said the state of emergency officially ended at midday Thursday (0000 GMT) after twice being extended in the quake's aftermath as authorities battled to cope with the widespread destruction.
"This does not mean the end of welfare, rebuilding and restoration work," the spokesman said. "That work will continue with urgency for as long as required."
While nobody died in the quake, the damage bill is expected to reach four billion dollars (2.7 billion US) and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand expressed concerns about the impact on the wider economy.
Announcing that official interest rates would remain on hold at 3.0 percent, Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard said rebuilding would be a lengthy process.
"The earthquake that struck Canterbury on September 4 has significantly disrupted economic activity and is likely to continue to do so for some time yet," he said.
Bollard said headline inflation was likely to spike with increased demand for construction materials but the central bank would not allow the disaster to distract it from its core mission to keep the economy on a steady course.
"Reconstruction and repairs will require considerable resources over the next year or two, particularly in the construction sector," he said.
"If, in the aftermath of the earthquake, the prices of some goods and services increase temporarily, monetary policy would remain focused on the medium-term trend in inflation."
The decision to leave rates on hold had been widely expected, with most analysts saying the central bank would adopt a "wait-and-see" approach to the quake's economic aftermath.
The earthquake toppled building facades, buckled rail lines and damaged 100,000 homes in the city of 340,000 people and Prime Minister John Key has described the lack of fatalities as a miracle.
While Christchurch residents have been rattled by hundreds of aftershocks since the main quake, most schools have reopened, public transport is operating and accommodation has been found for hundreds of people left homeless.
There have also been no disease outbreaks or major public health scares and no-go zones in the city centre were lifted last week as the danger from falling debris eased, allowing businesses to reopen.
Former prime minister Helen Clark, who now heads the United Nations Development Programme, said New Zealand's response had been exemplary and should be a model for other disaster-hit countries.
"There were no deaths, mostly because there were years of a strong building code and anticipating that New Zealand, on the ring of fire and volcanic area around the Pacific, could suffer such an event," she told reporters in a video-conference from New York early Thursday.
"Now what we have to aspire to do is build that level of resilience in countries around the world. It will take time, but it can be done."
Civil defence officials said lifting the emergency declaration meant special powers available to police and local councils in the immediate aftermath of the disaster were no longer required.
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