There are predictions that the devastated CBD of Christchurch will not be able to open until the end of the year and that it could take at least 10 years to rebuild the city.
The warnings, outlining the scale of damage to the New Zealand’s second largest city, came as the death toll from the February 22 quake rose to 161, with expectations it will rise to more than 240.
The search for survivors from the 6.3-magnitude quake has changed to a grim effort to recover bodies from rubble, the government said.
”There becomes a time when the response has to change from rescue to the recovery of bodies, and, sadly, we have reached that point,” Civil Defence director John Hamilton said.
Up to 100 foreigners from 20 countries are thought to have died in the earthquake.
But while the government has made it a priority to get Christchurch up and running again, some are questioning whether the city’s CBD should be rebuilt in the same place.
Dozens of CBD buildings were either destroyed or will have to be demolished, with the damage bill expected to reach $15 billion.
Christchurch has endured two major earthquakes in the space of six months, but mayor Bob Parker has dismissed suggestions the CBD should be permanently relocated.
“I have no intention myself of arguing for such an outcome. I do not believe that outcome is going to be the result of the work that we are doing,” he said.
“Our goal is to rebuild the city stronger and safer and better – better able to service our people, better able to service businesses and better able to survive in the conditions of the 21st century, which are vastly different to the conditions that were in the world at the time the city was laid out and originally built.”
In the meantime most CBD businesses cannot operate.
Mr Parker says he is aware of forecasts the CBD will not be able to open until the end of the year but believes it is too early to tell.
“I think anybody can see that with the level of damage that we have in the CBD, that it is going to be some months before it will be opened,” he said.
Mr Parker says getting business back into the area is a priority.
“Our intention is to ensure that we can enable those businesses to get back into operation as soon as possible to sustain employment,” he said.
“The government has put a support package in place for six weeks. We’re very conscious of that timeline. We’re in close communication with the government.
“We want to support our businesses. We want to enable them to continue to trade and to employ, and it’s being given as much attention as it could possibly be given.”
A range of options are being discussed.
The government is in talks with the chamber of commerce about setting up temporary business parks within two months.
Mr Parker says this is one of several alternatives being considered.
“It’s very clear that a number of businesses, if they wish to keep operating, will need to be able to extract some of the core data storage that they have on site – files and other information. And they will need to set up temporarily,” he said.
“Whether that will be in a new, purpose-built area or whether there is capacity existing in areas already surrounding the central city is a piece of work which is underway at the moment.”