The dark side of the earthquake evacuations

The dark side of the earthquake evacuations

Police are investigating at least 19 individual cases across the South Island of looting and theft while people were evacuating their homes to safety in the wake of Monday morning's magnitude-7.5 earthquake.

A family-of-four returned to their home in New Brighton, Christchurch hours after the initial quake to find their home had been ransacked by brazen burglars who'd taken more than $5000 worth of belongings.

A public response on a Givealittle page has seen more than $38,000 raised for the family who has a daughter that suffers from muscular dystrophy. 

In Nelson, police are investigating the reported theft of several firearms from a property in Riwaka early on Monday morning.

Area Commander, Inspector Mathew Arnold-Kelly says it is unacceptable people are taking advantage of these situations.

"For someone to take advantage of others at a time like this is a deplorable act," he says.

"We do not want these firearms to fall into the wrong hands. Police have launched an investigation as a matter of priority.

"We are appealing for members of the public to help us to recover these weapons. Any information, no matter how small, could assist us in resolving this crime. This could include sightings of individuals behaving suspiciously or collectors being approached to buy the firearms."

Police say burglars targeting homes in the Canterbury region following Monday's earthquake can expect to be dealt with when caught.

Canterbury District Commander Superintendent John Price says those behind the thefts can expect a heavy hand when they are caught.

"I can assure Cantabrians that these burglaries will be investigated rigorously and those responsible will be held to account where appropriate," he says.

"It is extremely disappointing that at a time when people are facing such a traumatic event and communities are coming together to support one another, there are others who are only interested in taking advantage.

"This sort of offending really scrapes the bottom of the barrel, especially for Cantabrians who have endured so much heartache in similar circumstances over the last five years."

Political figures have also weighed in on the situation, many agreeing the full force of the law should come down on those who commit such crimes.

New Zealand First is calling for the Government to announce new laws with powerful sentencing for looters during times of civil disaster.

"These individuals are preying on others during periods of extreme stress and tragedy," says leader Winston Peters.

"Police time is being wasted chasing looters when they should be free to concentrate on the emergency effort. Their valuable work is diverted by such selfish acts.

"That anyone would rob others at a time of such crisis is evil."

Prime Minister John Key shared those thoughts, but stopped short saying law changes wouldn't be made.

"What drives someone to do that?" he asked. "Doing that when someone is in the middle of a natural disaster, give me a break."

"Be a decent human being for goodness sake."