New Zealand quake makes ripples in Whistler 

Kiwis living abroad gather donations, pool resources to aid quake victims


Imagining the worst was over was wishful thinking.

Five months after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake shook Christchurch, New Zealand without casualties, the city was badly damaged by a second quake on February 22. This one measured 6.3 on the Richter Scale but did considerably more damage to the city of 376,700 residents than the first.

"I was quite surprised that no one got hurt or died in September, which was pretty miraculous," said Nick Mays, a 24-year-old from the Christchurch region living in Whistler.

"Since then they've had a lot of aftershocks but I think everyone thought, 'Well, we've had the earthquake now, that's that,' so for this to happen now in the way it has happened is quite shocking and it's pretty hard to deal with, especially being overseas."

Mays' family was safe and accounted for after the quake hit, and while his parents' home was badly shaken, most of the damage was confined to items inside the house. A friend was not as lucky.

"One of my good friends Riley that was here with me last season has lost his house, it fell off a cliff as far as I know," he said, adding that he plans to return to New Zealand permanently in four weeks.

As of Wednesday, March 2 the death count in Christchurch was 159 and rising as rescue workers sifted through collapsed buildings throughout the city. Prime Minister John Key has publicly stated that the rebuilding of the city could take 15 years. One in three commercial buildings in the heart of the city are beyond repair and will have to be demolished. Business New Zealand, the leading national organization representing the interests of New Zealand's business and employing sectors, said growth for 2011 would be severely dented through production lost in the wake of the earthquake. It also estimates damage from the quake will cost between $10 billion and $15 billion.

The emotional toll of the quake can't be quantified. News of the disaster took just minutes to reach Kiwis living in Whistler but the effects will likely last a lifetime.

"I have a couple of friends who have lost mates in the quake," said Emma Brosnahan, a New Zealander living in Whistler for the past four months. "We say in New Zealand that there is only two degrees of separation between people because we are so small. With the earthquake it seems that everyone knows someone who has been affected."

Like Mays, Brosnahan is in Whistler to snowboard and work. Since the most recent quake she's been keeping tabs on the situation through photos and articles online but is finding the distance difficult.

"It has definitely been hard being so far away - you just want to help and you have no idea how to," she continued. "This is huge for New Zealand - it is likely to be the biggest disaster in our history. It's a terrible time for the people of Christchurch and for New Zealand as a nation. This is the time you just want to be home, with your family, doing what you can."

To add insult to injury, 90 km/hour winds tore through the demolished city this week, displacing debris and rubble and forcing residents to use facemasks being handed out by city officials. More than a week after the quake, more than 27,000 people are still without power, mostly in the eastern part of the city. According to news reports, 67 per cent of Christchurch homes have water, something Mayor Bob Parker called a "remarkable achievement" given the state of the city's infrastructure.

"Christchurch was only just starting to recover from the September earthquake and this was a real kick to the guts," said Brosnahan. "It is going to take years for Christchurch to come back from this. Over one third of the city was destroyed including many of our historic buildings. Businesses have been shut down indefinitely and people are leaving the city in droves, unwilling to take the risk of another quake or aftershock. The region is hurting and grieving and every cent is going to help to get people back to some kind of normality."

Donations for relief efforts are pouring in, with over $60,000 raised by Japanese rugby fans and $268,000 donated by the General Motors Foundation of the US. New Zealand cricket captain Daniel Vettori put his entire collection of cricket memorabilia up for auction to raise money for the Christchurch earthquake appeal, and Fonterra Earthquake Relief Fund will contribute more than $3 million to the relief effort.

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