Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake responders say San Diego may not be ready for the big one

Responders discuss how to be better prepared

SAN DIEGO - Is San Diego really prepared for a major earthquake? Recovery and cleanup experts still on scene in Christchurch, New Zealand two years after a big quake say chances are we are not.

Experts have already predicted a major quake in California within 30 years.

Anyone who remembers seeing the images in February 2011 knows the damage caused was historic.

Peter Ward heads one of the biggest demolition companies in New Zealand. More than two years after the 6.3 earthquake that devastated Christchurch, his company is still there cleaning up.

He remembers his reaction to the damage when he arrived from Auckland.

"It was… it was unbelievable," he said.

Ward, who calls himself a second responder, came to San Diego to speak at the National Demolition Association's 40th annual convention to teach San Diegans how to be better prepared.

He said he was most surprised by one thing in Christchurch.

"Basically that we weren't prepared," said Ward. "I wish my outfit had been more involved with the emergency response people pre-earthquake."

Ward said during the chaos that crippled the city of more than 400,000 residents, he offered the assistance of his crews and massive machinery to help rescue the injured and trapped, only to be turned away by officials.
"When you're talking about earthquakes, you've only got a week and then you're doing body recovery," he said.

Nearly 190 people died and more than 1,500 were injured. Oakland-based demolition expert John Weber, who traveled to Christchurch as part of an advisory team, said his extensive earthquake experience did not compare.

"I wasn't prepared for what I saw there in Christchurch," Weber said.

During the convention, Ward showed video of the city before the quake which depicted a vibrant, modern city with many historic buildings. His video of the city after the quake showed a sparse cityscape with many buildings now gone. 

Ward said some heavily damaged buildings still standing today must be carefully dismantled. Cleanup and rebuilding, he said, could take up to 10 years. 

He had this message for San Diego.

"Get prepared, just get prepared," Ward said. "Start working with all of the people and all the parties and make sure you're prepared if a bad day happens."

Experts say the damage to Christchurch was magnified because buildings, roads and bridges were already weakened by a 7.1 earthquake almost six months earlier.  The cost to rebuild is estimated at about $12.5 billion in U.S. dollars.

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