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New Zealand quake: 65 dead, dozens trapped

It was the second time a major quake hit the city of 350,000 in five months.



Christchurch: A powerful earthquake collapsed buildings at the height of a busy workday in New Zealand`s city of Christchurch, killing at least 65 people and trapping dozens Tuesday in one of the country`s worst natural disasters.

"It is a just a scene of utter devastation," Prime Minister John Key said after rushing to the city within hours of the quake. He said the death toll was 65, and may rise. "This may be New Zealand`s darkest day," he told TV One News.

It was the second time a major quake hit the city of 350,000 in five months. Tuesday`s 6.3-magnitude temblor struck closer to downtown than a quake that heavily damaged Christchurch last September but caused no deaths when it struck before dawn on a weekend.

Video footage Tuesday showed some multistory 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 spire of the iconic stone Christchurch Cathedral toppled into a central city square.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city center. Troops were deployed to help people get out and to throw up a security cordon around the stricken area, said Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.

The airport was closed, and Christchurch Hospital was briefly evacuated before it was deemed safe and patients were returned. Power and telephone lines were knocked out, and pipes burst, flooding the streets with water. Some cars parked on the street were buried under rubble.

Some people were stuck in office towers and firefighters climbed extension ladders to pluck people trapped on roofs to safety. A crane lifted a team of rescuers on a platform to one group of survivors in a high-rise. Plumes of gray smoke drifted into the air at several points around the city from fires burning in the rubble.

Key held an emergency Cabinet meeting then rushed to the stricken city to observe the scene.

He said eight or nine buildings had collapsed, and that officials were working as fast as they can to free an unknown number of people who were trapped.

New Zealand police said in a statement that reports of fatalities included that two buses had been crushed by falling buildings.

Gary Moore said he and 19 other colleagues were trapped in their twelfth floor office after the stairwell collapsed in the quake. He did not know if people on other floors were trapped.

"We watched the cathedral collapse out our window while we were holding onto the walls," Moore said. "Every aftershock sends us rushing under the desks. It`s very unnerving but we can clearly see there are other priorities out the window. There has been a lot of damage and I guess people are attending to that before they come and get us."

The multistory Pyne Gould Guinness Building, housing more than 200 workers, collapsed and an unknown number of people are trapped inside. Television pictures showed rescuers, many of them office workers, dragging severely injured people from the rubble. Many had blood streaming down their faces. Screams could be heard from those still trapped.

Parker, the mayor, said he was on the top floor of the city council building when the quake hit just before 1 p.m. local time, throwing him across the room.

"I got down onto the street and there were scenes of great confusion, a lot of very upset people," he said. "I know of people in our building who are injured and I`ve had some reports of serious injuries throughout the city."

The U.S. Geological Survey said the temblor was centered 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the city at a depth of 2.5 miles (4 kilometers). Two large aftershocks — one magnitude 5.6 and another 5.5 — hit the city within two hours, and officials warned people to stay away from damaged buildings because of the danger of further collapses.

"When the shaking had stopped I looked out of the window, which gives a great view onto Christchurch, and there was just dust," said city councilman Barry Corbett, who was on one of the top floors of the city council building when the quake struck. "It was evident straight away that a lot of buildings had gone."

A search and rescue team was being flown in from Australia to help in the recovery, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she had offered Key any other support he requested.

The USGS said the latest quake was part of the "aftershock sequence" following the 7.1 magnitude earthquake on Sept. 4 last year. That quake wrecked hundreds of buildings, inflicted an estimated 4 billion New Zealand dollars ($3 billion) in damage, but caused no deaths.

A strong aftershock in December caused further damage to buildings. The city, considered a tourist center, was still rebuilding from those quakes when Tuesday`s temblor hit.
The USGS said the latest quake hit "significantly closer to the main population center of Christchurch" than the September quake, which was centered 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of city.

"The critical issue with this earthquake was that the epicenter was at shallow depth under Christchurch, so many people were within 10 to 20 kilometers (6 to 12 miles) of the fault rupture," said Gary Gibson, a seismologist at Australia`s Melbourne University.

"Its effect depends on how close it is, and ground shaking will be severe within 10 to 20 kilometers of the rupture," he said

PTI
A US delegation of 43 government, business and community leaders was in Christchurch on Tuesday for a United States New Zealand Partnership Forum meeting. All were safe, the State Department said. Nine US Congressmen attending the meeting were reported to have left the city before the quake struck.

A more powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, a city of 350,000, on Sept. 4, but caused no deaths. The latest one may have been deadlier because it was closer to where people live and work, centered 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the city, according to the US Geological Survey. It also may not have been as deep underground.

"The critical issue with this earthquake was that the epicenter was at shallow depth under Christchurch, so many people were within 10 to 20 kilometers (6 to 12 miles) of the fault rupture," said Gary Gibson, a seismologist at Australia`s Melbourne University.

The US Geological Survey said the quake was an aftershock from September`s temblor. A strong aftershock in December caused further damage to buildings. The city was still rebuilding from those quakes when Tuesday`s hit.

Known in New Zealand as the Garden City, Christchurch on the country`s South Island exudes the heritage of its 19th century English founders. A shallow river, the Avon, winds through the downtown that is traversed by historic tram lines and dotted with Gothic architecture, parks and sidewalk cafes. It is a popular destination for foreign tourists and students.

The multistory Pyne Gould Guinness Building, housing more than 200 workers, collapsed and an unknown number of people were trapped inside. Rescuers, many of them office workers, dragged severely injured people from the rubble. Many had blood streaming down their faces. Screams could be heard from those still trapped.

The earthquake knocked out power and telephone lines and burst pipes, flooding the streets with water. Firefighters climbed extension ladders to pluck people trapped on roofs of office towers to safety. Plumes of gray smoke drifted into the air from fires burning in the rubble, and helicopters used giant buckets to drench them with water.

Tour guides at the Tasman Glacier in the Southern Alps say the quake shook some 30 million tons of ice to off the glacier, forming icebergs in the lake. The falling ice created waves up to 11-feet (3.5-meters) high, which swept up and down the lake for 30 minutes.

The Christchurch airport, initially closed, was reopened Tuesday to emergency flights, and airport officials said domestic flights would resume on Wednesday.

New Zealand`s worst earthquake was one that struck in 1931 at Hawke`s Bay on the country`s North Island, which killed at least 256 people.

Jeff Peters, who runs a luxury motel in Christchurch about 750 yards (meters) from the cathedral, said the earthquake sent microwave ovens, plates and cups in his guest rooms flying.

"Sure we`ve come back from the last one, but what do we do now? Because so much of the city has been destroyed," he said.

Bureau Report

From Zee News

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