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‘Sense of despair’ as buildings collapse in NZ earthquake

23 February 2011

by Ed Beavan, Muriel Porter, Australia Correspondent and Helen Saxbee

CHURCH leaders in Christchurch, New Zealand, are ministering to the population of the city after the fatal earthquake on Tuesday, which left hundreds of people trapped under rubble, and caused the spire of the Anglican Cathedral to collapse.

This morning, the number of deaths stood at 113, with more than 200 people reported missing. It was the second earthquake to hit Christchurch in six months (News, 10 September). It measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, less than the 7.1-magnitude tremor in September last year, which happened at night, without loss of life. This week’s earthquake was more devastating, as it occurred at 1 p.m., when many people were out and about.

The Bishop of Christchurch, the Rt Revd Victoria Matthews, has called on Christchurch residents to “be calm, be sensible, be compassionate, be a good neighbour” in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live on Tuesday, the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch, the Very Revd Peter Beck, said that he feared that many people were still trapped in the building, and asked people in the UK to pray for them.

He was inside the Cathedral office when the earthquake struck, but managed to escape. “The tower has collapsed, and some of the walls have collapsed, and we’re pretty fearful there may be some people underneath that,” he said.

“There’s a huge amount of dust: it’s like a fog inside there. We got all the people out that we could, but there are piles of rubble, especially where the tower has collapsed.”

He later confirmed that all nine Cathedral staff were safe; one volunteer had been admitted to hospital. There are still an estimated 22 bodies lying unrecovered at Christchurch Cathedral where, police say, there was no chance of surviving the collapse of the building’s tower. The fatalities are presumed to be tourists.

Dean Beck told the New Zealand Herald that he accepted an emergency-services priority of rescuing those who may yet have a chance of survival amid the collapse of other buildings. Search dogs could not smell any sign of life in the rubble.

Bishop Matthews told Anglican Taonga, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia’s news service, that — in contrast to the September earthquake — “This time, there are high, high levels of anxiety, and a sense of despair. We are facing an entirely different scene, a crisis of an entirely greater order of magnitude.

A number of search and rescue teams have been sent to Christchurch by Australian authorities.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written to Bishop Matthews offering his prayers: “The devastation of the Cathedral is dreadful, but, as you have said yourself, it is only a sign of the real human tragedy, whose scale is so serious.

“We thank God that you and your people are there to offer strength and comfort to all those caught up in the personal suffering this has brought . . . I know that the people of Canterbury, in particular, with their historic associations with Christchurch, will be sharing very specially in prayer for you all.”

The Chapter and Community of Worcester Cathedral expressed in a statement on Wednesday that they have been “shocked by . . .  the terrible loss of life.” Three of the streets nearest to the Cathedral in Christchurch are named “Worcester”, “Hereford” and “Gloucester”, and a message of sympathy and support has been sent to the Cathedral and city on behalf of Worcester, Hereford, and Gloucester Cathedrals. Worcester Cathedral is open each day, and those who are concerned about friends and loved ones are welcome to come in to pray, to light a candle, or just to sit quietly.  

Many other churches have been damaged in the earthquake, including St John's, Latimer Square — believed to be all but destroyed —  Oxford Terrace Baptist, Durham Street Methodist, and Knox Presbyterian churches, which were all being repaired after the September earth­quake, have been destroyed. Two bell towers at the Roman Catholic Cathedral have collapsed, destroying much of its façade. The Pope has sent his condolences to those who have lost loved ones.

Christchurch Cathedral was designed by the British architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, and the foundation stone was laid in December 1864. The nave and spire were consecrated in 1881, and the building was completed in 1904. The spire was damaged by earthquakes in 1888 and 1901, but was restored. The Cathedral also suffered minor damage in the tremor last year, and parts of it were sealed off from the public for safety.


Details of the Provincial Archbishops’ and Bishops’ appeal can be found at www.anglican.org.nz/



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