NZ quake: damage assessment starts in Christchurch

Image caption,
The impact of the Christchurch quake is still visible

The Earthquake Commission in New Zealand is beginning a series of quick damage assessments to 180,000 homes following the Christchurch earthquake.

Each home will be visited by qualified builders for 15-30 minutes each in a process expected to take eight weeks.

Separately, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has quashed speculation that the plans to host World Cup rugby matches in the city were at risk.

Identification of more than 166 dead from the 22 February quake continues.

The Commission's chief executive Ian Simpson said that 540 estimators would carry out the assessments.

Homes across the city, including in Lyttelton, will be divided into categories of damage - those that require urgent action to make them weather-tight and habitable, and those with severe structural damage that may need to be rebuilt.

The quick damage assessment plan has been put forward by officials in an effort to give more certainty to home dwellers.

The assessments will provide for urgent repairs to be made, and for the claims process for financial support to begin.

Guide dog appeal

Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee said up to 300,000 earthquake claims were expected.

Mr Key has said 10,000 homes in Christchurch cannot be rebuilt.

In response to an English rugby writer Peter Bills, who suggested that even if AMI Stadium can be repaired, the city is too unsafe, Mr Key said:

"I think he should stick to writing rugby columns and avoid becoming a seismologist."

New Zealand will host the 2011 Rugby World Cup starting on 9 September, at stadiums around the country including Christchurch.

Thousands of Christchurch residents have left the city, but Mr Key insisted he felt comfortable there.

Following the success of an auction of a rock which crushed a Lyttelton home in the quake, a date with the All Blacks rugby team captain Richie McCaw or former supermodel Rachel Hunter is being auctioned online.

This appeal is to raise money for the retraining of an estimated 40 guide dogs for the blind in Christchurch, who must now learn new routes through the rubble.

A national memorial day, 18 March, will feature events planned in Christchurch's Hagley Park. Britain's Prince William will also tour devastated areas.

Quake recovery is expected to cost the country at least NZ$15bn ($11bn; £7bn).

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