Damage may cost $15bn: Treasury


THE Christchurch earthquake could cost up to $NZ15 billion ($11.1 billion), the New Zealand Treasury estimated yesterday, as its government announced a temporary relief package for residents and businesses hit by the disaster.

”The earthquake has clearly dealt a considerable human and economic blow to [the area of ] Canterbury, and this will have a significant impact on the government’s finances and the wider New Zealand economy,” said Finance Minister Bill English. ”Its effects will be felt for some years to come.”

The news came as Prime Minister John Key announced he would visit Christchurch today and asked the nation to observe a two-minute silence at 12.51pm (New Zealand time), marking one week since the quake occurred. The confirmed death toll remains at 148 with more than 50 people still missing.

In other developments:

Two people were arrested for earthquake related offences.
Authorities warned of frauds seeking donations.
About 200 people were evacuated from homes near dangerously unstable cliff faces.
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said an inquiry into the disaster was inevitable and the only way to deal with concerns about public safety, but that the government should decide whether it should be more formal than an internal review by emergency services.

Police also released the names of two people whose bodies were found on Saturday. They were Natasha Sarah Hadfield, 38, of Kaiapoi, and Owen Morris Wright, 40, of Lyttelton.

Police Superintendent Dave Cliff said disaster victim identification teams from Israel and Thailand had arrived at the military camp outside the city that held the temporary mortuary.

He said care was being taken to keep distressed families informed. Delays in identifying international victims were due to difficulties obtaining ante-mortem information such as dental records, he said.

Superintendent Cliff said there had been reports yesterday of people impersonating Earthquake Commission officials and asking for bank account details and promising money would be deposited. Earlier, one person was arrested for breaching a security cordon and another for impersonating a search and rescue worker and carrying a knife, a police baton and an axe.

The estimated cost of the damage included loss of output from the area around Christchurch and lower economic growth for the whole nation, as well as reduced tax revenue and increased government spending on rebuilding.

Mr Key has offered a support subsidy to help employers keep paying wages, and other payments to employees who no longer have a job as a result of the disaster.

”This package is designed to get people through the next six weeks, as the government considers what measures will be needed in the medium-term,” Mr Key said.

One-third of Christchurch is without water and an estimated 10,000 people will need temporary housing. New Zealand fire service chief Russell Wood said at least 30 CBD buildings would require ”heavy machinery”, but declined to say whether that meant they were to be razed.