Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: I have been informed of a major earthquake in Christchurch and the surrounding areas. Reports are coming in of damage in the city, and we are in the very early stages of responding to the earthquake. At this stage we have sketchy details that suggest that significant damage to buildings and infrastructure has taken place. It may be some time until the situation on the ground becomes clearer, but we do know that the people of Canterbury are once again going through a traumatic and frightening experience. My thoughts and, I am sure, the thoughts of this House are with the people of Canterbury. The Government stands alongside them now and for however long it takes to repair and rebuild their region.
The Government will keep New Zealanders informed as information becomes available. I have called an emergency Cabinet meeting for 3 o’clock this afternoon. Straight after that it is my intention to fly to Christchurch, conditions permitting. I want to go down there for a firsthand look and I will return quickly to Wellington to work with Ministers to ensure that everything that needs to be done is done urgently.
The civil defence bunker in the Beehive has been activated and the Minister of Civil Defence and officials are meeting. The details that we have are extremely sketchy. Communication with Christchurch civil defence is extremely limited. There has been some communication via satellite, but at this stage the details are extremely sketchy. But the worrying fear, of course, is that this earthquake has taken place at a time when Cantabrians were going about their business. It is a very populated time, with people at work and children at school. Sadly, I cannot rule out whether there have been fatalities, but we are aware of significant damage to buildings that had people in them at the time.
We are also advising Cantabrians to exit the central city where large buildings are more prevalent. We will be doing whatever we can to assist those who have been evacuated from the hospitals. Obviously where possible we are asking people to make contact with their loved ones via text or whatever is available to them to check on their welfare. By 3 o’clock this afternoon we will have more information, hopefully from officials by portfolio, but of course all of the provisions that rest with an emergency clarification in this area will come into play, and the Government will be there to provide whatever assistance is possible.
Can I just pass my thoughts to the Canterbury-based members of Parliament, who I am sure are all very worried about their own families. I give them the assurance that we will do whatever we can to give them information as soon as we have it to hand.
Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour)
: The Labour Opposition joins with the Prime Minister in giving our thoughts and best wishes to the people of Christchurch and the Canterbury region, who have just suffered two major earthquakes this morning. The earthquakes appear to have been centred about 5 kilometres from Lyttelton. As if the people have not already suffered enough—the steps of recovery, the slow steps of recovery, were taking place, and people were getting their lives back together again—now they face another setback.
It appears, from watching the television reports—and it is very distressing just to watch the reports, let alone to be there—that the devastation is even greater than that from the first earthquake. The earthquake was felt as far away as Greymouth, Timaru, and Dunedin, and people in this building also felt it. We know that there have been some injuries to people, and we hope and pray that there have not been any fatalities. But, anecdotally, the earthquake was very severe. People are checking on their families, and naturally they are very worried and distressed, not only in Christchurch but around New Zealand, as they try to find out whether their families are safe.
This will need another big effort to be made in Christchurch, and I support the Prime Minister in saying that we will do whatever we can, and that this House stands together in helping the people of Christchurch. Roadways are damaged, the airport is closed, the power is out, and the water is out, so there will be a need for another big effort to be made there. I do not think that many of us will forget the sight of Christchurch Cathedral—such a touchstone, such a landmark—and seeing the crumbling of that building.
I know that local MPs are rushing to get home to be with their families and their constituents. Clayton Cosgrove is already on his way to Timaru to be there, and Phil Goff gives his apologies to the House because he was actually in Christchurch, and is still in Christchurch, at the United States - New Zealand Partnership Forum. He offers all the support that he can to the Prime Minister, in helping the people of Christchurch.
Now is the time to focus on Christchurch, and the business of this House today seems to be far less important than what we can do to assist the people down there with our thoughts, our best wishes, our practical help, and our prayers. We stand together in this House with the people of Christchurch.
Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green)
: This appears to have been an unprecedented event—certainly for Christchurch and the people of Canterbury. In this moment our immediate thoughts go out to the families of everybody who will be directly affected. As a Christchurch resident myself, I plan to return on the next available flight and to assist in the recovery effort there for as long as it takes.
This will be the ultimate test of the resilience and the fortitude of the people of Canterbury. If we thought the September earthquake was big, I think it will be nothing like this. We face an even bigger challenge; therefore, we shall be up to it. We shall dig deep, we shall summon all our resolve, we shall group together, we shall unite, and we shall show the country and beyond our Cantabrian spirit. Whatever lies ahead, we shall not be daunted. To the people of Canterbury, I say: “You are not alone—we are not alone—all of New Zealand is there to support you, to support us”.
Hon RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT)
: This is a very dark and very grim day for New Zealand, perhaps the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetime. We do not know the full extent of the tragedy, but early accounts suggest that it is enormous and that there is considerable devastation. It comes on top of an extraordinary amount of
suffering by the people of Christchurch and Canterbury as the earth has shaken and shaken continually since September last year.
It is important to this House, with representatives of all of New Zealand, that the people of Canterbury know that every New Zealander has the people of Canterbury in their thoughts, in their prayers, and in their hearts, and that this Parliament and our Government stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their darkness, and in their sad, tragic plight where they need assistance as they have never needed it before.
We know, too, that this tragedy now will have travelled right around the world, and that there will be Kiwis in the far-flung corners of the planet grieving for the people of Canterbury and Christchurch in their tragedy. We know as a Government and as a country that we are not alone, and we know that our brothers and sisters in Australia will be thinking of us. The United States of America, the United Kingdom, and all the countries around the world will be beside us in this great hour of need. This is a time when words fail us. We hope and pray that the tragedy is not as bad as we so solemnly fear in this hour. Thank you.
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party)
: The Māori Party stands with all parties of this House to convey our best wishes and hopes for the people of Ōtautahi—Canterbury. We know they have a very strong fighting spirit. They are going to need it this time, because the earthquake happened at a busy time, midday, and we know that it was quite severe in terms of damage to buildings and cars on the road, liquefaction, and all the things that have happened this time.
Our hope is that everyone will contact their families and their relatives down there to make sure they are OK, to manaaki each other, and to look after the children, who must be really fearful, having experienced earthquakes before. This is the biggest daytime one for them to experience. Tragedies bring people together, and I hope this sad tragedy makes New Zealand think very carefully about how lucky we are in this country to have good fortune, a high standard of living, and the relationships between people that we enjoy day by day, so that we can unite in this way with one thought, and that is for the people of Ōtautahi.
Nā reira koutou mā, tēnei mātou e mihi atu ki a koutou. Ko te tūmanako kia manaaki koutou i a koutou. Kimihia ō koutou whānau, ō koutou hoa me te manaaki, tiaki hoki i a rātou i roto i tēnei wā pōuri. Nā reira, mā te Atua koutou e manaaki, e tiaki kia mutu ai tēnei āhuatanga. Ngā mihi ki a koutou, tēnā koutou.
[So our thoughts are with you. We hope that you look after each other. Seek out your families and friends; comfort and shelter them in this moment of darkness. May God protect and watch over you so this tragedy has an ending. Our sympathies and thoughts are with you.]
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive)
: On behalf of my Canterbury colleagues, I thank the Government for adjourning the House. We will all be trying to get home as soon as we can. I understand that the runways at the Christchurch International Airport are out the moment, so I will go to Timaru, or the ferries beckon. Clayton Cosgrove is obviously ahead of us there.
After over 4,000 aftershocks I guess most of us in Canterbury felt that we were over the worst, and that there would be a declining level of seriousness of the shakes. But watching the television pictures this afternoon was very dispiriting and shocking for those of us who know the city well. But this time it is a bit personal. I was talking to my electorate office when the earthquake hit and there was real terror in the voice of Jeanette Lawrence, who has been with me a long time.
Hon Ruth Dyson: She doesn’t scare easily.
Hon JIM ANDERTON: She does not scare easily. She said to me that all of the buildings across the road had just collapsed, and I felt that this was a bit different. The walls of our own building seem to be in great trouble. I have not been able to get through to my electorate office since, because the phones are out—both cell phones and office phones, of course—and I have also been unable to contact my wife, who is in the centre of the city this afternoon. It will be the same for many of us outside of Christchurch and a worrying time for all and I feel for everyone in this position.
We were very fortunate with the original quake, to be honest. At 4.30 in the morning, it could not have happened at a better time, really; at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, it could not have happened at a worse time. So it will be a bigger miracle if we escape as lightly as we did the first time in terms of personal injuries or fatalities. There is clearly a more significant possibility of that this time and we have to face that.
The Christchurch community, and Cantabrians in general—and I say this as a former Aucklander—are pretty resilient. They are courageous and they show a lot of fortitude. But I have to say to the rest of New Zealand that if there ever was a time to feel with us and for us, and to offer a hand of assistance, this will almost certainly be it, because all of those qualities will be tested to the maximum that they have ever been tested. I thank the House for expressions of support and I hope that we can get through this as well as we would possibly expect.
Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future)
: As some members will know, I am part of the Cantabrian diaspora. Although that is fun at times of rivalry between provinces and competition, it is an occasion like this that brings home to us what our roots mean to us when we know—and I take the point that Mr Anderton made—of family who are somewhere in the central city at the moment whom we cannot contact, and when we see the scenes of devastation.
Christchurch Cathedral was an icon, and to see the spire crumble is something that I never thought imaginable. I have seen the photographs of what happened in the 1886 earthquake, when it did crumble, and I take some comfort from the fact that the rebuilding of Christchurch Cathedral and the restoration of it to its original grandeur became a symbol then for the recovery of the province from the devastation of the earthquake, and I believe that, in its own way, it will serve that purpose now.
When the big quake struck in September everyone said: “Weren’t we lucky it was at that hour of the morning, when we were all asleep. Imagine if it had it been 2 hours later or, perish the thought, in the middle of a working day. Imagine what would have happened.” That reality now strikes home. Over the next little while I think New Zealand is going to be in for a very tragic and torrid time as the consequences in human terms, in physical terms, and in terms of the natural environment become obvious for Christchurch.
In the longer term, this is about how our country pulls together to help the people of Christchurch and Canterbury recover. This is a time when all the political differences and all the other differences we have somehow seem utterly irrelevant and pointless. We are focused on a tragedy; we are focused on recovery. I know that everyone would wish the authorities from central government, local government, and civil defence well as they commence that task.
Can I simply say in conclusion that I understand that the Inland Revenue Department building in Christchurch has suffered some significant damage, and I simply want to say to the staff of that department that we will work with them to help the restoration. I know they had a tough time during the first quake, and I hope they are not too shattered or devastated by these events. But their story will be like the story of so many, and it is a story we are going to hear repeatedly over the days ahead. Our challenge is to work
with people to come to grips with that and enable them to pick up the threads of daily life as quickly as possible.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: I start by thanking the other leaders of the parties in the House for their support, and I give them my assurance that we will keep them up to date with all the information we have as soon as it comes to hand. I am fearful that there have been fatalities in Christchurch. I am not in a position to confirm those absolutely and it would be irresponsible for me to do so, but I am pretty fearful that we have lost people in Canterbury.
I want Cantabrians and New Zealanders to know that we will be doing everything we possibly can to help them in their moment of need. A significant urban search and rescue effort will be required. It would be my expectation that the army and others will now be engaged very rapidly in Canterbury, and, as I said earlier, Cabinet will meet in a moment to look at all the options. But it is important that the people of Canterbury know that we will be there to give them every support that we possibly can.
I am sure everyone will appreciate that it is an extremely fluid situation at the moment. We do not have the best information available to us, but it is very clear that the earthquake, because of its shallow nature and the time that it took place, has wreaked significant havoc on Canterbury and is likely to have cost lives.