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The Christchurch earthquakes and census collection

About the earthquakes

On 4 September 2010, Canterbury residents woke to a magnitude 7.1 earthquake centred near Darfield, 40km west of Christchurch city. This was the first in a series of quakes that shook the region over the following months and years.

The most destructive quake, on 22 February 2011, was magnitude 6.3 and centred in the Port Hills area. This resulted in the deaths of 185 people and caused widespread damage across Christchurch city, especially in the central city and eastern suburbs.

It was followed by a magnitude 6.4 on 13 June 2011, and a magnitude 6.0 on 23 December 2011. According to Canterbury Quake Live, between September 2010 and December 2013 there were:

  • 57 earthquakes of magnitude 5 or more
  • 476 quakes of magnitude 4 or more
  • 3,773 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or more.

The 22 February earthquake caused widespread liquefaction in parts of Christchurch city and some areas of the Waimakariri district, which were already damaged following the 4 September quake.

After geotechnical testing, the government declared some residential areas to be ‘red zoned’. This was either because of the risk of liquefaction and lateral spreading (on flat land, mainly in in the eastern suburbs) or because of rock fall risk and proximity to unstable cliffs (in the Port Hills). In total, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) red zoned 7,349 properties due to the level of land damage.

Map, Greater Christchurch territorial authorities and the residential red zones.

Census collection in Canterbury following the earthquakes

The 2013 Census is a snapshot of population and dwellings on 5 March 2013. Normally, population and dwelling figures are relatively steady. However, the impact of the earthquakes and the on-going recovery in greater Christchurch means there are continuing changes as dwellings are demolished, people move, and new sub-divisions are opened for development.

Because the 2011 Census was cancelled after the earthquake on 22 February 2011, the gap between this census and the last one is seven years. The change in the data between 2006 and 2013 may be greater than in the usual five-year gap between censuses. Be careful when comparing trends. The two years after the earthquakes may have seen the most change, rather than the five years before the earthquakes.

Counting everyone in Canterbury describes our response to the impact of the earthquakes. Follow the link for a copy of 2013 Census – information for people in Canterbury, which census collectors provided to households in most areas of Canterbury. This leaflet was designed to help people displaced by earthquakes correctly enter information, such as their usual residence details, on the census forms. At census time, additional help was also available from the public contact centre, the census website, and help buttons on the online forms.

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