February 22nd, 2011

Earthquake in New Zealand

Posted at 2:18 PM ET

nz-eq-1-smallA deadly earthquake hit New Zealand’s South Island at 23:51 UTC on February 21 (12:51 on February 22 local time) causing at least 65 fatalities and widespread damage, according to latest reports. The epicenter of the earthquake, measuring 6.3 Mw, was located only 3 miles (5 km) from the city of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island, at a shallow depth of 2.5 miles (4 km), according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The USGS said that this latest earthquake occurred as part of the aftershock sequence of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit the town of Darfield on New Zealand’s South Island on Sepember 3 2010. Since this quake, there have been approximately six aftershocks greater than or equal to a magnitude of 5.0 in the Christchurch region. The latest quake is the largest aftershock since September 2010 and is significantly closer to the main population center of Christchurch than the 2010 main shock, and has therefore been more destructive. Since the recent quake, there have been six aftershocks, the most powerful at 5.6 Mw.

nz-eq-1-big

Hazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from i-aXs®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. i-aXs users can view impacted areas on any map as well as see how their portfolios were affected. Please contact your broker or GC Analytics (SM)  representative for assistance or go to www.i-axs.info for further information.

According to the USGS, an estimated 526,000 people live in areas impacted by a Modified Mercalli intensity (MMI) of V or higher (Table 1) and the majority of those affected live in Christchurch (population of c. 364,000). In addition, 310,000 people live in areas affected by MMI VIII and IX, equivalent to severe to violent shaking.

Reports said that the quake was the most deadly to hit New Zealand in 80 years, when a 7.8 Mw tremor killed 256 people in the Hawke’s Bay region in 1931. Unlike the earthquake of September 4, 2010, the present quake occurred during the lunchtime break of many of Christchurch’s workers. Buildings and parts of structures in the central business district were destroyed, including the 6-story Canterbury TV building, which was reduced to a ruin and Christchurch cathedral, which lost its spire. Reports said that the multi-storey Pyne Gould Guinness building, which houses 200 workers, had collapsed, leaving an unknown number of people trapped inside.

Christchurch’s mayor Bob Parker said that 200 people were still likely to be trapped inside ruined buildings and police were drafting in urban search and rescue teams to try to locate the survivors. Parker has issued a five-day state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city center. He said that rescue crews would work throughout the night to reach the people still trapped inside buildings. Prime Minister John Key said that the center of Christchurch has been “absolutely devastated”, and has mobilized army units and air force planes to fly in police search and rescue squads. Key said that rescue teams were also on their way from Australia and the United States. Singapore, Israel and the European Union has also offered assistance.

According to reports, the main airport is open only for emergency flights and Christchurch’s hospital was briefly evacuated before it was deemed safe for patients to be returned. Power and telephone lines were cut and water pipes were burst, flooding the city with water and causing sanitation problems.

The Prime Minister said that the death toll was likely to rise as the search and rescue operation continues. The New Zealand police said in a statement that the current fatalities included two buses that had been crushed by falling buildings. Recent reports said that so far 120 people have been rescued from the ruins. Hospitals around the South Island have been cleared to take earthquake patients and in Christchurch, emergency shelters were set up in the city’s Hagley Park, a race course and schools as nightfall approached.

The suburbs of Lytellton - located at the earthquake’s epicenter - and New Brighton are reported as being “unliveable”.

Elsewhere, the quake caused around 30 tons of ice to shear away from New Zealand’s biggest glacier in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

Although being smaller in magnitude, the present quake has caused more destruction than the September 2010 7.1 Mw quake that nevertheless caused an estimated economic damage of USD3 billion.

It is still too soon to know the full extent of the damages, but current damage indications from reports and comparisons with the September 4, 2010 quake suggest that insured losses from this event are likely to be greater than those suffered from the event in 2010.

Table 1: Estimated Population Exposure to Earthquake Shaking (Source: USGS)

Estimated MMI

Estimated Population Exposure

Perceived Shaking

IX

65,000

Violent

VIII

245,000

Severe

VII

68,000

Very Strong

VI

54,000

Strong

V

94,000

Moderate

Sources: Agence France Presse, Associated Press, BBC News, Bloomsburg Businessweek, Reuters News, USGS, WSI, Xinhua News Agency.

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Guy Carpenter publishes CAT-i reports for major natural catastrophes worldwide. These reports cover catastrophes including worldwide tropical cyclones, earthquakes, major UK and European floods and any other natural event that is likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email CAT.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Guy Carpenter compiles RISK-i reports for major technological or man-made events worldwide. These reports cover risks to property, transport and life including explosions, fires, crashes, engineering disasters and terrorist attacks that are likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email RISK.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

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