Country’s second largest city hit by 6.3-magnitude quake on busy weekday afternoon, its second major quake in five months.
At least 65 people have died after a powerful earthquake struck the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch, collapsing buildings, burying vehicles under debris and sending rescuers scrambling to help people trapped under rubble.
The 6.3-magnitude quake struck the country’s second largest city on a busy weekday afternoon.
The mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker, has declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city centre.
“Make no mistake this is going to be a very black day for this shaken city,” he said.
Power and water was cut and hundreds of dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered through the streets as sirens blared throughout Christchurch in the aftermath of the quake, which was centred three miles from the city. The US Geological Survey said the tremor occurred at a depth of 2.5 miles.
The multi-storey Pyne Gould Guinness Building, housing more than 200 workers, has collapsed with an unknown number of people trapped inside. Television pictures showed rescuers, many of them office workers, dragging severely injured people from the rubble.
Elsewhere, police said debris rained down on two buses, crushing them, while emergency workers were moving to rescue survivors trapped in other partially collapsed buildings across the city.
New Zealand’s TV3 said 24 people were trapped on the 17th floor of the 19-storey Forsyth Barr office building, near the cathedral. The building was intact but a stairwell had collapsed, it said.
Christchurch hospital had to deal with many injured residents.
“We’ve had a lot of people at the emergency department … a significant number, a lot of major injuries,” said David Meates, the chief executive of the Canterbury health board.
“They are largely crushes and cuts types of injuries and chest pain as well,” he said, adding some of the more seriously injured could be evacuated to other cities, where hospitals have been put on alert and prepared to accept casualties.
All army medical staff have been mobilised, while several hundred troops were helping with the rescue, officials said.
A woman trapped in one of the buildings said she was terrified and waiting for rescuers to reach her six hours after the quake.
“I thought the best place was under the desk but the ceiling collapsed on top. I can’t move and I’m just terrified,” office worker Anne Voss told TV3 news.
Emergency shelters had been set up in schools and at a racecourse, as night approached.
Helicopters dumped giant buckets of water to try to douse a fire in one tall office building. A crane helped rescue workers trapped in another office block.
“I was in the square right outside the cathedral – the whole front has fallen down and there were people running from there. There were people inside as well,” said John Gurr, a camera technician who was in the city centre when the quake hit.
The city’s historic cathedral was one of the buildings that took significant damage, while cars were buried under rubble and roads buckled as the tremor opened fissures in the ground.
“It is huge. We just don’t know if there are people under this rubble,” a priest standing outside the rubble of the damaged cathedral told Television New Zealand.
Search and rescue teams are working through the night to look for survivors, the civil defence director, John Hamilton, said.
“We have to be prepared to accept that it is going to be a heavy toll,” he said, adding that it was unclear how many people were trapped in buildings.
“There could well be people who are stuck in buildings overnight. I can’t confirm, but I would expect that’s in all probability the case.”
All airports and airspace in the country were shut down and all flights into, out of and around the country were put on hold immediately after the earthquake.
Airways NZ, New Zealand’s national air traffic control organisation, is based in Christchurch.
Local TV showed bodies being pulled out of rubble strewn around the city centre, though it was unclear whether any of them were alive.
It was the second time in five months that the city has been struck by a major earthquake. Last September’s 7.1-magnitude earthquake was 30 miles west of Christchurch. About 100 people were treated at hospital with earthquake-related injuries then.
Christchurch has been hit by hundreds of aftershocks since that earthquake, causing extensive damage and a handful of injuries, but no deaths. New Zealand, which sits between the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates, records on average more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which about 20 would normally top magnitude 5.0.
Christchurch is home to about 350,000 people and is a tourist centre and gateway to the South Island.
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