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Aftershocks put quake city rebuild on hold

NEW ZEALAND: Dangerous aftershocks have left the battered city of Christchurch struggling to rebuild 12 months after a devastating earthquake and raised doubts over its economic future.

Much of the downtown area was destroyed and remains sealed off following the 6.3-magnitude quake on February 22 last year, which killed 185 people as it flattened office blocks, buckled roads and brought historic buildings crashing down.

Hotels and shops lie empty behind the wire-mesh fences of the "red zone", which covers most of the central business area -- a ghost town of broken buildings and vacant lots with weeds poking out from exposed foundations.

The only sound of activity from within is the crash of rubble being dumped into skips as workers still toil to clear debris from the historic precinct which was once the pride of New Zealand's second largest city.

Plans are afoot for a NZ$30 billion ($24.5 billion) rebuilding programme, the largest construction effort in the country's history, to restore Christchurch to its former glory as capital of the South Island.

But constant seismic activity has frustrated the effort, with about 10,000 aftershocks recorded since September 2010, when a 7.0-magnitude quake on a previously unknown fault line began what has become a trial of endurance for the city.

No-one was killed in that quake and reconstruction was well under way before the deadly February tremor hit, lower in magnitude but shallower and with an epicentre much closer to the city centre's already weakened buildings.

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