M A I N   N E W S

65 dead in New Zealand quake

Melbourne, February 22
At least 65 persons were killed as a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand’s southern city of Christchurch early today, crushing buildings and leaving hundreds of people trapped and screaming for help. “The death toll I have at the moment is 65 and that may rise. So it is an absolute tragedy for this city, for New Zealand and for the people that we care so much about,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said.

“It’s a terrifying time for the people of Canterbury. We may be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day,” he said and described Christchurch, the nation’s second-largest city, as “a scene of utter devastation.” Dozens were trapped under flattened buildings in the country’s most devastating tremor in 80 years.

The widespread damage came from a lunch-time tremor in the city of about 4 lakh residents which is still recovering from a powerful quake in September last year. However, that quake did not cause any fatalities but did weaken many buildings. Live video footage showed parts of buildings collapsed into the streets, which were strewn with bricks and shattered concrete. Footpaths and roads were cracked and split, and hundreds of dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered through the streets as sirens blared throughout the city. The TV footage showed onlookers clinging to each other and others bleeding and limping, many searching for loved ones and trying to reach trapped people.

People fled the city centre as emergency services rushed to the area to evacuate those trapped in buildings. The police said there were multiple fatalities in the city, including an accident in which two buses had been crushed by falling buildings. Christchurch airport was temporarily closed and the police said they were evacuating the city centre as building frontages collapsed, with witnesses saying there were people trapped inside.

Eye-witnesses said rescue helicopters were pressed into service to lift survivors to safety from the rooftops of buildings where staircases had collapsed, and emergency workers used giant cranes to pull office workers out of ruined city buildings. "We had everything on our side in the last earthquake ...we're the polar opposite this time," said John Key, New Zealand PM.

Christchurch Mayor Parker described the city, a historic tourist town popular with overseas students, as a war zone. He told local radio that up to 200 could be trapped in buildings but later revised that estimate down to around 100 or so. It was the country's worst natural disaster since a 1931 quake in the North Island city of Napier which killed 256. — Agencies





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