Christchurch earthquake kills 185

22 February 2011

On Tuesday 22 February 2011 at 12.51 p.m. Christchurch was badly damaged by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake, which killed 185* people and injured several thousand.

The earthquake’s epicentre was near Lyttelton, just 10 km south-east of Christchurch’s central business district. The earthquake occurred nearly six months after the 4 September 2010 earthquake, but is considered to be an aftershock of the earlier quake.

The earthquake occurred at lunchtime, when many people were on the city streets. More than 130 fatalities were caused by the collapse of two multi-storey office buildings – the Canterbury Television and Pyne Gould Corporation buildings. Falling bricks and masonry on Manchester St and in Cashel Mall killed 11 people, and eight died in two city buses crushed by crumbling walls. Rock cliffs behind houses collapsed in the Sumner and Redcliffs area, and boulders tumbled down the Port Hills, with five people killed by falling rocks.

Although not as powerful as the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on 4 September 2010, this earthquake occurred on a fault line that was shallow and close to the city, so the shaking was particularly destructive. In the February 2011 quake, the fault movement and structure of the bedrock produced exceptionally strong ground motion – up to 1.8 times the acceleration due to gravity in the eastern suburbs. In the city centre, ground accelerations were three to four times greater than those produced by the September 2010 earthquake.

The earthquake brought down many buildings that had been damaged in September 2010, especially older brick and mortar buildings. Many heritage buildings were heavily damaged, including the Provincial Council Chambers, Lyttelton’s Timeball Station, and both the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral and the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Among the modern buildings irrevocably damaged was Christchurch’s tallest building, the Hotel Grand Chancellor. More than half of the buildings in the central business district have had to be demolished.

Liquefaction was much more extensive than in the September 2010 earthquake. Eastern sections of the city were built on a former swamp. Shaking turned water-saturated layers of sand and silt beneath the surface into sludge that squirted upwards through cracks. Properties and streets were buried in thick layers of silt, and water and sewage from broken pipes flooded streets. House foundations cracked and buckled, wrecking many homes. Despite the damage, there were few serious injuries in residential houses in liquefaction areas. However, several thousand homes have been demolished, and some suburbs will probably never be reoccupied.

The government immediately activated its National Crisis Management Centre, and a national state of emergency was declared the day after the quake. Christchurch’s central business district was quickly cordoned off.  Electricity was restored to 75% of the city within three days, but re-establishing water supplies and sewerage systems took much longer.

The cordon around the central business district was progressively reduced over the next two years but not completely removed until June 2013. It will take several more years to completely restore the city’s electricity and water networks to pre-earthquake standards. Many areas in the condemned ‘Red Zone’ will not have services restored to this standard.

* The official toll was initially 181, but four further victims were confirmed by the coroner in February 2012.

Text adapted from Te Ara with acknowledgements to GeoNet and GNS Science

Community contributions

7 comments have been posted about Christchurch earthquake kills 185

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Posted: 04 Jul 2016

I believe that this was one of the most tragic natural disasters that had ever occurred in New Zealand ever before!! We as humans need to step up and take actions rather than moping around and making everyone feel sorry for us and what had happened. Christchurch has been through a tough six years but soon everything will be normal again.

John Cox

Posted: 31 Dec 2015

There was very little destruction caused to buildings. More damage was caused by illegal and misguided rescue teams, and a confusion about official markings - buildings were marked with a red sticker as a warning not to enter, and contractors interpreted this as a license or reason to demolish the building. Many historic and other buildings which could easily have been repaired were destroyed due to this simple confusion. Nearly five years later it is still common for the red markings to be interpreted as a license to demolish.


Posted: 28 May 2013

Hi Susan. Thanks very much for the prompt to update the information on this page. I've now changed the text to bring things up-to-date as of May 2013. Kind regards, Jamie Mackay


Posted: 24 May 2013

It is a good story but all is correct. The Christchurch CBD was reopened only 2 weeks ago - around the beginning of May 2013 - and not all of it. Electricity and sewerage connections are still not supplied to quite a few houses and many people continue to use Port-a-Loos and wash in buckets. A considerable number of houses are not repaired and people are still camping out in them as they cannot afford to move.