Sharp aftershocks hit New Zealand

Jason Williams stacks bottles of clean water in Kaiapoi,  outside Christchurch, New Zealand,  today.  (Associated Press)
Jason Williams stacks bottles of clean water in Kaiapoi, outside Christchurch, New Zealand, today. (Associated Press)

Expert says they’ll likely go on for weeks

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – A series of about 20 aftershocks rattled New Zealand’s earthquake-hit city of Christchurch overnight, and earthquake experts warned today that another powerful temblor might hammer the region in coming days.

The weekend’s powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake smashed buildings and homes, wrecked roads and disrupted the central city, though nobody was killed and only two people were seriously injured.

The city center remained cordoned off by troops today, with only building owners and workers allowed in to begin clearing up the mess – with much of the center taking on the appearance of a ghost town.

More than 100 aftershocks, ranging from magnitude 3.2 to 5.4, have rocked the region since Saturday’s major quake.

Overnight, about 20 shocks including two of magnitude 5.4 rattled the city, and quake experts said aftershocks likely will continue for several weeks – and the worst of them may be yet to come.

“It is still possible that we’ll have a magnitude 6 in the next week, and people ought to be aware of that, particularly if they are around structures which are already damaged,” said Ken Gledhill, a monitor at the geological agency GNS Science. “For a shallow earthquake like this, they will go on for weeks.”

Prime Minister John Key called off a planned nine-day trip to Britain and France, citing what he called the quake zone’s continuing “instability.”

On Monday, Key warned that New Zealand’s economic recovery will suffer a setback from the damage wrought by the powerful quake.

“There will be considerable disruption to the (regional) and national economy in the short term,” but activity should pick up as reconstruction gains momentum, he said.

The government plans to pay at least 90 percent of the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to rebuild the city’s water, waste water and road infrastructure, Key said.

The quake struck at 4:35 a.m. Saturday near the South Island city of 400,000 people, ripping open a new fault line in the earth, destroying hundreds of buildings and cutting power to the region.

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