Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Zealand quake kills 65 as dozens trapped

New Zealand quake kills 65 as dozens trapped

More than 100 people are believed to be trapped in rubble after a deadly 6.3-magnitude earthquake rocked the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch on Tuesday.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city centre following the quake, which has killed at least 65 people. Parker said rescue teams including sniffer dogs were fanning out.

 "The government is willing to throw everything it can in the rescue effort," Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said. "Time is going to be of essence.

"I rang my kids to say goodbye," said Ann Voss, interviewed by TV3 from underneath her desk, where she was trapped in a collapsed office building. "It was absolutely horrible. My daughter was crying and I was crying because I honestly thought that was it. You know, you want to tell them you love them, don't you?"

She said she could hear other people still alive in the building, and had called out to them and communicated by knocking on rubble.

"I'm not going to give up," she said. "I'm going to stay awake now. They better come and get me."

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it had no reports of any Canadians affected by the earthquake.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters in Christchurch that the death toll was expected to rise.

"It is a just a scene of utter devastation," Key told TV One News. "This may be New Zealand's darkest day."

Earlier, a police statement said "multiple fatalities have been reported at several locations in the central city, including two buses crushed by falling buildings.

"Other reports include multiple building collapses, fires in buildings in the central [city] and persons reported trapped in buildings," the statement said.

Nathanael Boehm, a web designer, told The Associated Press that he was standing near a tram track when the quake struck just before 1 p.m., sending the eaves of buildings cascading onto the street.

"It was horrific. People were covered in rubble, covered in several tonnes of concrete," Boehm said, adding that he believed some of them had been crushed to death.

Christchurch's daily newspaper, the Press, reported on its website that witnesses said screams could be heard coming from the Pyne Gould Business building, where as many as 30 people were feared trapped.
Top of cathedral collapses

The spire of downtown Christchurch Cathedral collapsed into a central city square.

"The top of the cathedral's collapsed," a police official told Sky News in the city's centre. "It's the heart of the city. It's gone."

Video footage showed some multi-storey buildings collapsed in on themselves, and others with walls that had collapsed into the streets, strewn with bricks and shattered concrete.

Sidewalks and roads were cracked and split, and thousands of dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered through the streets as sirens blared.

Groups of people helped victims clutching bleedings wounds, and others were carried to private vehicles in makeshift stretchers fashioned from rugs or bits of debris.

The quake first hit at 12.51 p.m. local time, according to New Zealand's GNS Science. It was centred at Lyttelton, N.Z., southeast of Christchurch, at a depth of five kilometres.

Aftershocks were continuing, the New Zealand Herald reported. They included a 5.7-magnitude aftershock at 1:04 p.m. at a depth of six kilometres, 10 kilometres south of Christchurch.

The city's airport was closed after the flight tower collapsed, and a major tunnel was shut. Christchurch Hospital remained open but was damaged, the Press reported.

Power was believed to be out in 80 per cent of the city.

Civil authorities set up triage centres around the city to help injured people.

People working in the centre of Christchurch interviewed by Sky News New Zealand said the quake was much worse than last year's.

Because the quake occurred at lunchtime on a busy Tuesday, many more people were hurt. The Sept. 4, 2010, earthquake, registering at 7.1 magnitude, occurred on a weekend, and since then, Christchurch has been hit by hundreds of aftershocks, causing extensive damage and a handful of injuries, but no deaths.