Earthquake News

Scores Killed in New Zealand Earthquake

SYDNEY, Australia — A powerful earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, during the city’s busy lunchtime rush on Tuesday, flattening office buildings, destroying several homes and killing scores of people, officials and eyewitnesses said.

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Martin Hunter/Getty Images

A woman was rescued from a building after an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Tuesday.

Reuters

An aerial view of a damaged cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key said that at least 65 people were confirmed dead in the 6.3-magnitude. The mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker, declared a state of emergency and ordered the evacuation of the city’s downtown area, The Associated Press reported.

Television footage from the scene by 3 News New Zealand showed emergency crews pulling shaken and injured victims from the stricken buildings, including one four-story structure, the Pine Gould Guinness building, that was partially damaged by the temblor. Emergency crews were working to evacuate people from another building that had caught fire shortly after the quake.

The search and rescue mission was being further complicated by repeated strong aftershocks to the zone, they said.

“Government agencies and emergency services are still putting together a picture of the damage,” New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English, told reporters in the capital, Wellington. “We are aware of reports of a number of fatalities, but are unable to confirm those.”

Mr. English and the Civil Defense Minister, John Carter, said that Christchurch’s main hospital, which sustained minimal damage, was preparing for multiple casualties. Some victims had already been airlifted to hospitals outside the earthquake zone.

The Christchurch Airport was closed and said on its Web site that it would reopen Wednesday morning only for domestic flights.

Photographs and video from Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-largest city with an urban area of nearly 400,00 residents, showed people running through the streets, massive landslides pouring rocks and debris into suburban streets and extensive damage to the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. One witness called it “the most frightening thing of my entire life.”

The quake hit the country’s South Island just before 1 p.m. local time. The tremor was just the latest in a series of large earthquakes to strike in recent months. In September, a magnitude 7.1 quake rocked the same area, but caused no casualties.

The United States Geological Survey said Tuesday’s initial 6.3-magnitude quake was followed by various aftershocks, and itself was part of an aftershock sequence from last September’s 7.0-magnitude quake.

“There is more substantial damage to buildings than there was during the original earthquake,” Mr. Carter said. Tuesday’s tremor was centered about six miles from downtown Christchurch, and was only about three miles underground, possibly making it more destructive.

Several news outlets reported extensive devastation to the nearby town of Lyttleton, nearest the epicenter of the quake, but there were no immediate pictures from the scene.

“The earthquake itself was quite violent, a lot of movement,” said Jason Tweedie, a 40-year-old Christchurch resident who was sitting in his four-wheel drive when the quake struck. “It felt like there were about 10 people shaking the side of it, all at once, it was so much force.”

The force of the quake pushed thousands of gallons of water and silt into the streets, Mr. Tweedie said, and in some places the road appeared to open up and swallow several cars in his beachside neighborhood of New Brighton.

Julian Sanderson was in his apartment on the first floor of an old brick movie theater when the walls and ceiling began to crumble around him.

“When it all stopped, I had to kick out the front door to get out,” the 41-year-old said by telephone, standing in front of his nearly-collapsed building. “I used to work in that building making furniture, but everything has just changed. What we have now is the clothes that we’re wearing.”

 

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