Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A powerful earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, during the city’s busy lunchtime rush on Tuesday, flattening office buildings, destroying several homes and killing scores of people. At least 65 people were confirmed dead in the 6.3-magnitude quake. The mayor of Christchurch declared a state of emergency and ordered the evacuation of the city’s downtown area. Television footage from the scene showed emergency crews pulling shaken and injured victims from the stricken buildings, including one four-story structure, the Pine Gould Guinness building, that was partially damaged by the temblor. Emergency crews were working to evacuate people from another building that had caught fire shortly after the quake. The search and rescue mission was being further complicated by repeated strong aftershocks to the zone. The Christchurch Airport was closed and will reopen Wednesday morning only for domestic flights.
Christchurch is New Zealand’s second-largest city with an urban area of nearly 400,00 residents. There were people running through the streets, massive landslides pouring rocks and debris into suburban streets and extensive damage to the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. The quake hit the country’s South Island just before 1 p.m. local time. The tremor was just the latest in a series of large earthquakes to strike in recent months. In September, a magnitude 7.1 quake rocked the same area, but caused no casualties. “There is more substantial damage to buildings than there was during the original earthquake." Tuesday’s tremor was centered about six miles from downtown Christchurch, and was only about three miles underground, possibly making it more destructive.
Several news outlets reported extensive devastation to the nearby town of Lyttelton, nearest the epicenter of the quake, but there were no immediate pictures from the scene. “The earthquake itself was quite violent, a lot of movement. It felt like there were about 10 people shaking the side of it, all at once, it was so much force.” The force of the quake pushed thousands of gallons of water and silt into the streets, and in some places the road appeared to open up and swallow several cars in the beachside neighborhood of New Brighton. "Everything has just changed. What we have now is the clothes that we’re wearing.” (photos)

**The hardest years in life are those between ten and seventy.**
Helen Hayes

This morning -

Yesterday -
2/21/11 -

NEW ZEALAND - The magnitude 6.3 earthquake that hit Christchurch today is still classed as an aftershock despite the increased damage. Today's tremor was "definitely connected" to the first magnitude 7.1 earthquake of September 4. "At some point aftershock sequences do end. The rate does diminish but the magnitude doesn't. Any of them could be quite big."
Multiple fatalities have been reported after the powerful 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch on New Zealand's South Island. The tremor, which hit at 1251 (2351 GMT on Monday) only 10km (6.2 miles) south-east of the city at a depth of 5km (3.1 miles), caused widespread destruction. The fire service said numerous people were trapped in buildings, and a state of emergency has been declared. The damage is said to be far worse than after September's 7.1-magnitude quake. There have been several aftershocks since last September's quake, with a 4.9 magnitude tremor hitting just after Christmas.
TV pictures of the aftermath of Tuesday's earthquake showed several collapsed buildings in the centre of Christchurch. People could be seen wandering the rubble-filled streets in distress. Local police said there were reports of multiple fatalities, including that two buses had been crushed by falling buildings. There were also reports of fires and of numerous people being trapped in collapsed buildings. Witnesses said up to 150 people were feared trapped inside the Pyne Gould Guinness building alone. Local television showed bodies being pulled out of rubble strewn around the city centre. It was not known if they were alive. Christchurch Cathedral, an iconic stone building in the centre of the city, was partly destroyed, its spire toppling into the square below. Concrete in Victoria Square had risen at least a metre in some places and there are signs of liquefaction around the Avon river. "The ground is still like jelly, a low level shake all the time." (Christchurch is built on silt, sand and gravel, with a water table under it, so that when there's an earthquake, the water rises and mixes with the sand.)
"When the shaking had stopped I looked out of the window, which gives a great view onto Christchurch, and there was just dust." Power and telephone lines were knocked out, and pipes burst, flooding the streets with water. There is also a shortage of ambulances, so private vehicles are being used to ferry the injured to triage centres. Initial reports said the main hospital had been evacuated, but this was later denied by the police. Christchurch's roads were gridlocked with people trying to flee the city as the authorities have instructed.
"The worrying fear, of course, is that this earthquake has taken place at a time when people were going about their business - it is a very populated time, with people at work, children at school. Sadly, I cannot rule out that there have been fatalities." "Significant" aftershocks should now be expected.
New Zealand lies at the southern end of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, and above an area of the Earth's crust where the Pacific Plate converges with the Indo-Australian Plate. The country experiences more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which only around 20 have a magnitude in excess of 5.0. The last fatal earthquake was in 1968, when a 7.1-magnitude tremor killed three people on the South Island's western coast. (photos & map)

MISSISSIPPI - Oil well fire caused by earthquake? Several Jones county volunteer fire departments responded to a small fire at an oil well site at about 9:15 p.m. Friday. “Firefighters had the fire at the well head out within 30 seconds after starting the attack,” said McKenna. “It was a pretty minor fire and no one was injured.” Cause of the fire has not been determined. “They apparently loss pressure at the well."
They couldn’t help wonder if the loss of pressure had anything to do with the minor earthquake that shook southern Alabama Friday evening. TPeople more than 200 miles away reported feeling the tremblor which the U.S. Geological Service says happened at 5:15 p.m. Friday. There was no immediate damage reported from the 3.5-magnitude earthquake. “It’s just one of those funny things that have you wondering, especially when they began to lose pressure around the same time."


PHILIPPINES - At least 2,000 people have been evacuated to safer grounds following today's explosion on Mt. Bulusan in the central Philippine province of Sorsogon. Military trucks started evacuating the residents living at the foot of the volcano soon after they received a report of the explosion. Mt. Bulusan exploded 9:15 a.m., local time. Ash from the steam-triggered explosion hit as high as two kilometers. Mt. Bulusan is the highest peak in Sorsogon and covers a land area of 3,672 hectares. The volcano began spewing ash and steam in December last year.

Cyclone ATU was 1045 nmi NNW of Auckland, New Zealand.
Cyclone CARLOS was 73 nmi W of Port Hedland, Australia.
Cyclone DIANNE was 751 nmi WNW of Perth, Australia.

AUSTRALIA - Residents of Karratha in Western Australia coast are taking shelter in their homes as tropical cyclone Carlos sweeps close by, threatening to bring gale-force winds and flooding.
A high-level red alert is in place for communities in the Pilbara as category two Tropical Cyclone Carlos tracks along the coast. Yesterday a cyclone-fuelled mini tornado ripped through parts of Karratha, damaging cars and buildings and bringing down power lines. A number of roads have been closed while schools in Karratha, Port Hedland and Roebourne will be closed as the cyclone passes. Oil, gas and port installations in the region have also been battened down in readiness for expected heavy weather.
Carlos is expected to continue moving in a general west southwest track, close to the Pilbara coast. Gales with wind gusts to 100km/h are being experienced between Port Hedland and Karratha and they will extend west towards Exmouth later today and towards Coral Bay early tomorrow. There was a risk of destructive winds with gusts exceeding 125km/h . "Damaging waves and flooding of low lying coastal areas are possible particularly on Tuesday's high tide in the Karratha region." Elsewhere in Western Australia, flood warnings remain in place for the Greenough, Murchison and Gascoyne River catchments.
Disaster aid needed in over 200 communities - The head of Queensland's Reconstruction Authority has identified more than 200 towns and city suburbs that need help after the summer of floods and cyclones. A small number of Australia Defence Force crews are still cleaning up in parts of the state, while other regions have progressed to short and medium-term recovery. An "over-arching" plan to rebuild the state is almost complete but the job will take time. "The state is so big. The area that's been affected by either the cyclone or the floods, there are still some towns that I have not been able to get to."

NEW ZEALAND - Large swells likely as Cyclone Atu brushes past. The latest cyclone to grow out of the Pacific is forecast to brush past New Zealand, creating a risk of high seas on the North Island's east coast. Cyclone Atu formed on Saturday, true to its name ("Saturday-born"), and is expected to reach New Zealand waters by Wednesday. Atu is now a category two storm moving southwest from Vanuatu at a speed of 8km/h. The Fiji Meteorological Service has predicted it could turn into a category three cyclone, with winds of around 120km/h. The storm followed a similar pattern to Wilma, and could yet mimic that huge cyclone. "The sea temperatures are favourable, the atmosphere is favourable and Atu will cross the same body of water that saw Wilma go from a category 2 storm to a category 4 storm back on Auckland Anniversary weekend." There is only a 20 per cent chance of the cyclone hitting New Zealand directly but a close miss could still have some impact. "We're very lucky, it's going to be incredibly close, but not quite close enough." The Joint Typhoon Warning Centre had revised the cyclone's path to closer to New Zealand but the weather system was unlikely to cause serious damage on the coastline.
The greatest threat was from raised sea levels anywhere between Northland and the East Cape. Atu could create large swells and coastal erosion in Gisborne and Hawkes Bay, the most exposed spots. The cyclone's arrival in New Zealand waters will also coincide with a 3.5m tide in Auckland and a 3m tide in Coromandel.
"This is the third cyclone to pass us to the east. When we've seen what they've done to Australia, New Zealand has been lucky to be on the outskirts of where they've hit." Tropical cyclones lose a lot of energy when entering New Zealand waters because their oceans are too cold to fuel them. After a blisteringly hot start to February, which put New Zealand on track for its hottest ever month, the last week was slightly colder. The first signs of autumn were beginning to show, with cooler mornings as a result of longer nights, which give the warm air more time to cool down.

VANUATU - Hundreds evacuated ahead of approaching Cyclone Atu Officials on the island nation fear the cyclone could worsen food shortages already afflicting the region.
Nearly 400 people were evacuated from their homes on the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu as Cyclone Atu approached, bringing gale force winds and torrential rain to the region. Over the weekend the storm battered the archipelago. 381 people had been evacuated from the island’s low-lying areas near the capital Port Vila. At the time of the evacuation, the cyclone was moving in a southerly direction towards Tafea province. The most recent data shows Atu will stay out at sea. Last month Tafea was badly battered when Cyclone Vania hit and many officials were worried that this recent storm would compound food shortages there.


AUSTRALIA - Water has flooded a collection point set up to help Brisbane's flood victims, ruining half of the donated goods stored there. Overnight storms caused flash flooding in the suburb of Spring Hill, sending 30cm of water through the agricultural pavilion at the RNA showgrounds, where a flood relief centre has been based. It is a cruel blow for families still struggling after January's floods. "The damage is huge. We've easily lost half of the donations. It's devastating." The centre has been helping about 100 families a week, providing them with everything from food parcels and clothes, to bedding and kitchen items.