Joshua Runyan – Chabad.org
Just when rebuilding efforts were starting to show encouraging progress in Christchurch, New Zealand, city dwellers got a rude awakening Friday afternoon when the ground starting shaking yet again.
News reports indicated that a series of temblors began just before 2:00 p.m. local time when a 5.8-magnitude quake struck near Christchurch. It was followed eight minutes later by a 5.3-magnitude aftershock. Two other quakes, measuring 6.0 and 5.0 on the Richter scale, struck at 3:18 p.m. and 4:50 p.m. respectively.
Speaking from Auckland, Chabad-Lubavitch of New Zealand director Rabbi Mendel Goldstein said he was in Christchurch the day before to host a family Chanukah program and recover items from the local Chabad House that was severely damaged in February’s deadly 6.3-magnitude earthquake.
The building, which is slated for demolition, is part of some 10,000 properties that have either been demolished or are in the process of being torn down. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority arranged for Goldstein and Rabbi Shmuel Kopel of Queenstown to make one final walk through of the Chabad House before it gets razed.
Because phone lines were overloaded immediately following the latest series of quakes, Goldstein texted members of the Jewish community in Christchurch and received reassuring messages that most everyone was accounted for. He said that the difficult part about the latest shaking is that people thought the worst was over.
“Members of the community are, thank G-d, fine, albeit very shaken,” he explained. “Ever since June, when there was another swarm of tremors, things have been relatively quiet. People were just now starting to regain their confidence.”
National civil defense coordinator David Coetzee told reporters that the threat of further damage to already scarred buildings could be high.
“There will be further aftershocks,” Coetzee warned, according to a report in The New Zealand Herald. “This event pretty much takes the pattern of the June event.”
By Friday evening, many places in Christchurch were still without water and electricity.
Goldstein said that Chabad-Lubavitch of New Zealand was continuing to warn Israeli backpackers to stay away from Christchurch.
“We’re urging the backpackers to not be there unnecessarily,” said the rabbi, noting that Rabbi Shmuel Kopel in Queenstown is in the process of reestablishing a Chabad House for Israeli backpackers on the South Island there.
Items recovered from the Christchurch center included two ritual items on loan: a damaged silver Torah crown and a silver pointer used during Torah readings. Two Torah scrolls had previously been rescued by police Det. Chris Bell in March.