Christchurch, New Zealand – The Salvation Army in New Zealand is responding after the city of Christchurch was hit by a huge earthquake on Tuesday 22 February – the second major earthquake to affect the city in less than six months. At least 65 people are known to have been killed and – at time of writing – hundreds are trapped in the debris.
The 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck at 12.51 pm local time, causing structural damage and total destruction of some buildings. Vehicles were crushed by falling debris. Medical triage centers have established around the city and the mayor of Christchurch has declared a state of emergency.
The city of Christchurch and parts of the surrounding region were still rebuilding after a 7.1 earthquake that struck in the early hours of 4 September 2010. While that earthquake damaged buildings and made some homes inhabitable, there were no deaths and only a small number of injuries. The 22 February earthquake – said by seismologists to be an aftershock to the 2010 quake – was of a lesser magnitude than that in September but it was closer to the city center and nearer to the surface, which is why the damage is more significant.
By late afternoon The Salvation Army was assisting more than 1,000 people at a welfare site established near the inner city at Hagley Park. Shocked and grief-stricken locals are temporarily being housed in large marquees that were already on site for a flower show.
Major Rex Cross, emergency services coordinator for The Salvation Army in Christchurch, said that The Salvation Army was calling its emergency response teams together. Travel across the city was extremely difficult, however, and people are being told to stay away from the city center.
Catering supplies have been organized for around 1,500 people, says Major Cross, giving assurance that ‘food is on its way and people will be fed’.
He adds: ‘You just cannot imagine the enormity of this [quake] compared to the first one.’
Some Salvation Army buildings have been damaged. The Salvation Army’s community ministry center in Christchurch has been severely damaged, with significant damage to Christchurch City Corps (Salvation Army church). The Salvation Army’s South Island headquarters has also been affected.
The Salvation Army was involved in the initial response to last year’s earthquake and has continued to assist with welfare and psychosocial support.
‘The situation in Christchurch is extremely serious,’ says Commissioner Don Bell, commander of The Salvation Army’s New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory. ‘Our prayers are with the city of Christchurch – we pray for our own people, for their friends and neighbors. We pray that God will give strength and hope to those who are in shock, and help rescue efforts.
‘The Salvation Army stands ready to continue to help the city in this terrible time of great grief and human need.’
The Salvation Army has re-launched its Canterbury Earthquake Appeal in expectation of great humanitarian need. National fundraising coordinator Major Robbie Ross says the region has suffered terribly since last September’s earthquake and a tremendous effort was now required to help those already living with the hardships and psychological effects of the original quake and its aftershocks.
‘Our experience with the September quake showed us the great emotional shock such an event can have on people – and now there is the added dimension of people grieving for loved ones,’ he says. ‘There will be a myriad of material needs by those who have lost possessions and homes. We are appealing for cash donations to strengthen our response.’