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Sunday, March 13, 2011

At least 65 dead and fears death toll could rise to 300 as New Zealand is rocked by huge earthquake


Devastation: Police said 'multiple fatalities' were expected and many people were trapped under the rubble after buildings and homes collapsed in Christchurch city center

- People trapped under rubble of collapsed buildings

- City evacuated amid fears of fires and more devastation

- Second huge shock follows initial quake

- Famous Christchurch Cathedral destroyed

Up to 300 people are feared dead after a major earthquake brought down buildings in the centre of Christchurch, New Zealand, during the busy lunchtime today.

The official death toll so far stands at 65 but emergency officials have said that the figures could be much higher.

Local residents, office workers and tourists from around the world are among the casualties who have either been killed or seriously injured as buildings crashed down.

As the first evidence came of bodies being removed from wrecked buildings, police confirmed that there had been 'multiple deaths' .

Escape: Injured survivors of the quake help each other escape to safety as rubble from collapsed buildings falls around them in the street

Even the iconic cathedral, in the city centre, was not spared as its steeple toppled down wrecking a large part of the church.

'It is huge. We just don't know if there are people under this rubble,' said a priest, standing outside the ruins of the Cathedral.

A Melbourne surgeon visiting the city said he had seen major destruction all around - made worse by a strong aftershock.

'I fear there are going to be fatalities everywhere including at the cathedral in the centre where the steeple has come down bringing a large part of the building with it.'

The city square, where the cathedral stands, is a popular place for office workers enjoying their lunch break.

Before the quake: The city's cathedral and surrounding square is a popular place for office workers enjoying their lunch break

...And after: An aerial view shows the damage to the cathedral's spire following the quake. 'We just don't know if there are people under this rubble,' said a priest, standing outside

Although the 6.3 earthquake was not as powerful as 7.1 quake that struck Christchurch last September, the damage was far more severe because it was much more shallow - occurring at a depth of five kilometres.

The earlier quake was at a depth of more than 30ft.

Dramatic video footage on a mobile phone showed just one scene when roofing crashed down from a shop, causing a woman to run for her life, the wreckage just missing her.

A number of hotels in the centre of Christchurch were extensively damaged and several hours later it was feared many people were lying trapped or dead inside the wreckage.

Injuries: A woman covered in blood is rescued from inside the Pyne Gould Corporation building following the huge earthquake

Buildings burned, broken water mains gushed and sirens wailed in scenes reminiscent of a war zone.

'Mate, this is chaos...it's incredible...I'm in the middle of town now...this time people have been killed,' said local reporter Chris Hutchings.

'The Hotel Grand Chancellor, a 24-level building completed in 1990 - one corner of it appears to have collapsed.'

Stunned people who escaped the 60-second earthquake without injury stared in shock at the wreckage around them.

Others who were injured lay on pavements covered in blankets and clothing as they waited for medical help.

Toppled: The four-storey Pyne Gould Corporation building lies in ruins after the earthquake. One local reporter said it felt like a bomb had gone off

A TV reporter, staring at the wreckage of one office building, said: 'It's as if a bomb has gone off in there.'

The muffled cries of the injured waiting for rescue came out through the rubble, but from other piles of bricks and stones there was only silence, giving fear that bodies lay there.

People with blood pouring down their faces walked in a daze around the wreckage of buildings where, a short time earlier, life had gone on as usual.

Two buses were crushed, giving fear that many people had been killed. In one tragic incident, witnesses told how a backpacker - whose identity and nationality was not known - was believed to have been crushed to death when a building tumbled onto his campervan.

'It was crushed flat. There is no way he could have survived that,' said a witness.

Damage: New Zealand's second-biggest city Christchurch was rocked by devastation after the quake struck Lyttelton, which is thought to be the epicentre

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told parliament in Canberra that the New Zealand authorities had reported multiple fatalities 'but at this stage we don't know what that means.'

But in New Zealand grim-faced officials said they were preparing for the very worst.
Fears that many tourists have been killed, along with local residents, were heightened by the discovery of a number of bodies in a wrecked youth hostel.

Witnesses said bodies were seen being brought out of the Youth Hostel Association of New Zealand backpackers' building.

Troops began going from door to door - those that were still standing - checking if anyone needed assistance.

The terrifying scenes were enhanced by the faces of desperate people who have put up signs in smashed windows saying: 'HELP'.

Little hope: A bus was crushed by falling debris in the quake which measured 6.3 on the Richter Scale

Concerned that further buildings would collapse, police and emergency workers cleared the city centre and warned everyone not to approach.

All air space over New Zealand was closed to commercial airlines so that airports could be left free for emergency aircraft and military vehicles.

A passenger on board an Air New Zealand flight that landed as the earthquake was striking told how the terminal was rocking.

Another passenger, Robbyn Storey, told how she watched from the air as the tarmac and vehicles were being rolled around.

Calls went out for blood donations as nurses and doctors who were on leave rushed in to emergency centres and hospitals on the outskirts of Christchurch and in nearby towns.

Hospitals throughout the South Island were cleared of patients so that people with critical injuries could be treated.

No warning: A car's roof caves in after tonnes of brickwork fall from buildings onto it following the quake

Emergency medical centres have been set up on the outskirts to treat the large number of people expected to have suffered serious injuries.

Despite plans to evacuate the main hospital, staff said it was being kept open to treat the badly injured.

Police were also preparing to set up temporary mortuaries. Civil Defence declared the earthquake as a level three emergency - the highest rating.

A Christchurch resident, Peter Jackson, said: 'It's impossible to think that no-one has been killed or injured.

source: dailymail


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