"A very dark day." That was how New Zealand Prime Minister John Key summed up the events of the past 48 hours in New Zealand.
At 12:51pm on February 22 a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the proud rugby city of Christchurch, leaving the playing future of the Crusaders and the games due to be hosted by the city in the upcoming Rugby World Cup shrouded in uncertainty.
Although rugby is the last thing on the minds of the citizens of Christchurch, now trying to rebuild from what was possibly New Zealand's worst ever natural disaster.
As at 7:30 on February 23, the death toll stands at 75 with 300 still missing. Many families wait anxiously to hear news of loved ones as people continue to be pulled from the wreckage, both dead and alive. The city now lies in ruins, with many iconic buildings fallen and many homes destroyed. It will be a long rebuilding process, but such is the spirit of the people of Christchurch; there is no doubt they will pull through.
At the moment, this is what matters to the people of Christchurch, not where the Crusaders will play their first home game or two weeks time or if the city will still be able to host the Rugby World Cup.
Indeed, even the 2011 World Cup CEO Martin Sneddon admits, at the moment, the tournament's future is very unclear, and their priority at the moment is to ensure the safety of the people of Christchurch before any further assessment commences.
"It is too early to talk about implications for the tournament in Christchurch, and any assessment by us must wait while rescue efforts take priority," Sneddon said today.
“Our next step will involve our organisation leading a thorough process of assessing the city’s ability to host the seven RWC 2011 matches scheduled to take place there. This will involve an assessment of all the key RWC 2011 infrastructure of the city including the stadium, hotels, training facilities and the transport network."
“A detailed evaluation of this nature will take place as soon as is reasonably possible. We are mindful of the pressure the people of Christchurch are under right now and do not want to place any more demands on them."
Despite this, early indications look grim with the Crusaders being forced to relocate their home games for the 2011 Super Rugby season as the pitch at AMI Stadium is simply unplayable. No decision has been made as to where these games will be played, although it seems likely they will be played at other venues around the region. Nelson, Blenheim and Timaru are all likely destinations.
A decision has been made not to travel to Wellington to play the Hurricanes this weekend, a decision that few will begrudge, including their opposition who agreed to share the competition points.
But, at the moment, it is not where the Crusaders will play next week or the Rugby World Cup that matters but the safety of the people of Christchurch and the lives that were lost because of a freak tragedy. To quote New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, "it is times like these we realise that buildings are just buildings, roads are just roads, but people are irreplaceable." And that sums up the situation as well as anything.
To the people of Christchurch, stand strong. You will come through the other side of this and the whole of New Zealand is behind you in your efforts to rebuild. Kia kaha!
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