NZ Govt opens chequebook for earthquake relief

Article – BusinessDesk

Feb. 22 (BusinessDesk) – Finance Minister Bill English has signed a special order allowing government departments to ensure money is no object in the early phases of dealing with the second major earthquake in Christchuch within five months.

NZ Govt opens chequebook for earthquake relief

by Pattrick Smellie

Feb. 22 (BusinessDesk) – Finance Minister Bill English has signed a special order allowing government departments to ensure money is no object in the early phases of dealing with the second major earthquake in Christchuch within five months.

“I have given special approval for contingency spending under the Public Finance Act to spend extra money as necessary to cover spending that may not be covered by existing arrangements,” English told a mid-evening press conference at Parliament.

New Zealand’s second largest city suffered a shallow, 6.3 magnitude earthquake just before 1 p.m. today (NZT) that appears to have done far more damage than a 7.1 magnitude quake that hit Christchurch last Sept. 4, causing an estimated NZ$6 billion of damage, without loss of life.

The official estimated death toll from today’s earthquake is 65, but English told a mid-evening press conference in Wellington that the total “will almost certainly be higher.”

Christchurch’s mayor, Bob Parker, a former broadcaster who took over as the announcer on Radio New Zealand’s National Programme this evening, says that Christchurch citizens must be “realistic” about the eventual death toll.

“This is a major disaster in global terms,” he said. Thousands are seeking shelter at three public gathering places around the city.

Electricity is cut to more than 70% of the city, and only the north-west of Christchurch has running water. Rain is expected overnight and residents of the leafy city are being urged to collect water.

English said the televised images of collapsed multi-storey buildings in the central business district were indication enough.

“We know there are people in those buildings, and we are totally focused on finding them,” he said.

All three arms of the New Zealand Defence Force are involved in rescue efforts, Australia is sending 150 search and rescue experts overnight, and a corps of 100 Singaporean Army engineers happens to be on the ground in Christchurch.

Offers of assistance from Japan, which has specialist knowledge of earthquake rescues, are being considered, the European Union, the United States, and Israel have been received.

A high-powered delegation of American politicians and officials was already in Christchurch attending one of the most important New Zealand-US political engagements of recent years. The director of the US Office of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, was due to have attended.

(BusinessDesk) 22:04:49

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