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Will Christchurch Have to Move Somewhere Else?

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Nowhere in New Zealand seemed so permanent. It was the old world inset into the new. Even Christchurch's social hierarchy remains based on pedigree blood lines extending back to the founding fathers, those who made sailing ship landfall in the South Island in the middle of the 19th century. New Zealand second's city with its tree-lined roads, mock Tudor houses and English-style river rowing clubs with men in straw boater hats was also far to the East of the nation's treacherous and unpredictable North-South backbone seismic fault line. Or so it seemed.

In September last year came the earthquake which swamped the city in subterranean watery grey matter as compression quite literally liquefied acres of gravel under it.

Christchurch started to clean up. Then in February this year came the main quake, this time much closer, and for which the September rumble had been merely a precursor. Nothing and nobody was left unshaken this time. Bob Parker, 58, the silver-haired energetic city mayor, a former presenter of television's This is Your Life almost lost his. Standing on the balcony of the City Hall when the February 22 seismic shift struck, he was flipped over onto his back.

Pluckily, and giving no hint of his own physical anguish, he only days ago allowed himself to be admitted to hospital for surgery on his own torn frame.

Months ago Christchurch with its settled and established look contrasted cozily with much of the rest of New Zealand's cityscapes which convey an image of contrived modernity bordering on transience. Christchurch looked the safest place to be, the kind of orderly and methodical settled place where bad things do not happen.

Now it looks and is the most dangerous with its no-go zones and teetering buildings and hillsides.

In the past New Zealand's earthquakes have been characterized by one-shot blows, the first and most dangerous shake being followed over the next hours, at most, few days, with limited aftershocks as the earth's crust settles into its new conformation.

Christchurch though continues to shake long after the initial September quake and long after the deadly follow up in February which pancaked modern concrete office buildings, tore away Christchurch's defining cathedral spire and which was responsible for a death toll climbing agonizingly now close to 200 as missing people are identified beneath the rubble..

New Zealand prime minister John Key, 49, in his own words is a "proud son of Christchurch," and understands too the misery of displacement. His Austrian-Jewish mother Ruth, a refugee from World War 2 central Europe, came to settle in the Garden City as Christchurch with its extensive parks and gardens was popularly tagged.

Key, an independently rich financier, and who donates his annual salary to charity, knows that, as the new fault line arranges itself, and with growing uncertainty about how long this process will take, pressure is also building for a decision that will be ultimately his to make. Can Christchurch be rebuilt on Christchurch?

Founded by the British, the city's spirit remains phlegmatically British. Even in the face of the catastrophe which was of such severity that for example rescuers could not fathom out how one building was a storey shorter than in a recent photograph.

The bottom floor had sunk beneath ground level.

Only slowly is the notion surfacing that Christchurch faces having to move somewhere else.

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