WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Police cordons around the most devastated section of New Zealand’s earthquake-struck city of Christchurch were relaxed Sunday, allowing businesspeople and residents to salvage their valuables nearly two weeks after a temblor that killed at least 166 people.
Meanwhile, the government forecast that last month’s quake, combined with a larger but less destructive one that hit the Christchurch region in September, will almost halve New Zealand’s economic growth this year.
Long lines formed as people waited for a cordon that had been thrown around the devastated central business district of the country’s second-largest city following the Feb. 22 quake to be temporarily opened Sunday morning.
Mechanic Rick Crosbie said he was relieved that he would soon be able to visit his garage, but was also scared of what he might find.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen until I get in there and see what the building is like,” he said as he waited for a roadblock to be lifted. “I’m worried about getting customers’ cars.”
The government’s Treasury on Sunday released an estimate that February’s magnitude 6.3 quake, combined with September’s magnitude 7.1 temblor, would cost around 15 billion New Zealand dollars ($11 billion). That figure is less than Prime Minister John Key’s earlier estimate of NZ$20 billion ($15 billion).
The Treasury also expects the disasters to slow economic growth by 1.5 percentage points, to 2 per cent, for the calendar year, before the economy gathers pace again in 2012 on the strength of reconstruction work.
The disasters could sink New Zealand into a technical recession, which is defined as consecutive quarters of economic contraction.
Downtown Christchurch has been divided into four green zones, where restricted access will be allowed progressively in the coming days, and a red zone, where bodies are being excavated. The red zone remains closed to the public.
The quake demolished or irreparably damaged one-third of the buildings in the red zone, where authorities say the search for remains will not continue much longer.
Police said Sunday that the confirmed death toll had risen to 166 with the discovery of a body the previous day. The final toll is expected to exceed 200.