New Zealand: 6.3 Magnitude Earthquake Devastates Christchurch, Hundreds Feared Dead

Live updates: Christchurch quake (TVNZ):

3.15am: There is no water supply to 80 % of Christchurch.

Latest updates: Christchurch earthquake (+ map) (New Zealand Herald)

In pictures: Earthquake rocks Christchurch (BBC News)

New Zealand earthquake: Your pictures (BBC News)

Watch the video here:

New Zealand’s darkest day: hundreds feared dead (Sydney Morning Herald):

HUNDREDS of people are feared to have been killed in yesterday’s devastating New Zealand earthquake, which has left large parts of the city of Christchurch in ruins.

Rescuers worked through last night searching for survivors among the hundreds of people believed to be trapped inside the wreckage of high-rise buildings in the city centre.

The biggest rescue efforts were focused on the Canterbury Television building and the Pyne Gould Guinness Building, both of which gave way when the 6.3 magnitude quake struck at 12.51 pm.

The Canterbury Television building was a pile of smoking rubble last night. Amazingly some people walked from the ruins, but many more remained trapped inside.

The death toll remained at 65 last night, but Prime Minister John Key warned it would rise. ”We may be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day,” he said.

Opposition Leader Phil Goff said police had told him privately that between 200 and 300 people may be dead.

‘It’s on a scale not seen since the Napier earthquake,” he said, referring to the 1931 disaster in which 256 died. ”It’s absolutely tragic,” Mr Goff said.

At least 20 people were believed to be still trapped last night inside the collapsed four-level Pyne Gould building. Among them was Australian Anne Vos, who told the Seven Network by mobile phone she was stuck under her desk in the dark with an injured hand.

She said she could occasionally hear her trapped co-workers calling out for help. ”I can’t see them, I’m trapped under here and I have no idea what’s happening,” she said.

Yesterday’s quake was smaller in magnitude than the 7.1 quake that hit the region last September, but far more damaging because the epicentre was nearer to the city centre – about 10 kilometres away at Lyttleton – and just five kilometres below the surface. September’s was about 30 kilometres below.

Thousands of terrified city workers ran screaming from buildings around the CBD after the quake struck, as brickwork tumbled, lights went out and roads uplifted.

Some people were crushed by falling masonry and lay where they fell as shocked citizens staggered around them, some bleeding profusely. Buses and cars were crushed under falling building facades.

The city quickly ran out of ambulances and the injured were being picked up in borrowed 4WDs. The city’s squares became makeshift emergency wards, the injured treated at three open-air triage centres.

Last night hundreds of people were setting up camp in Hagley Park and other sites around the city, too scared to return to their homes.

Roads leading out of the city were jammed as workers tried to leave, causing lengthy delays, and at least half of the city’s 350,000 residents remained without power. Water and sewerage systems were also severely damaged, and people were urged to boil water.

Christchurch Hospital was initially partially evacuated, but was back up and running within hours. But the health service was sorely stretched – hospitals nationwide were readying to take further casualties.

Aftershocks continued to rattle nerves already stretched from September’s quake. By 7pm, 24 further quakes, including two exceeding magnitude 5, had shaken the city.

The government signed off on emergency spending powers to do whatever it takes to rescue victims. Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said: ”Time is now going to be of the essence.”

There were no confirmed reports of deaths among the 8000 Australians in the region.

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned ”we do need to prepare for that possibility”.

Consular officials last night were still investigating whether any Australians in the area were among the dead or injured.

Members of the Australian women’s cricket team, which had been training in Christchurch, were confirmed to be safe.

Ms Gillard rang Mr Key and offered any help requested. A 40-strong search-and-rescue team was immediately sent and another team of 34 will leave this morning. Another 74-strong team from Queensland will also be sent. The teams are taking specialist search dogs.

Ms Gillard said she had watched the scenes out of Christchurch with ”a growing sense of horror” and offered Australia’s condolences, saying that New Zealanders were ”like family to us”.

Mr Key, who flew to Christchurch to see the damage, described scenes of despair with people by the side of the road with heads in their hands as he drove from the airport. ”This is a community in agony,” he said.

The city’s mayor said that up to 200 people were still trapped in buildings. ”I don’t believe there will be thousands dead, but we’re certainly talking dozens of people who are in peril and they may not be able to be saved,” Bob Parker said. ”There are people fighting for their lives but there are also people fighting for them.”

A Category 3 State of Emergency, the highest level, would exist in the city for at least five days, and the CBD would remain shut down, Mr Parker said.

”This is a terrible, terrible situation. We’re doing everything we can out there in the city trying to rescue our fellow citizens, and we will work as long as it needs to complete that job.”

Christchurch Airport was closed overnight but is expected to reopen for domestic flights this morning and to international flights this afternoon.

In midst of yesterday’s chaos, there were stories of remarkable survival. Sven Baker, chief executive of Designworks advertising company, which has a Christchurch office, said a split-second decision to jump under a desk rather than run out the door saved his life.

Mr Baker was in the bottom floor of a four-storey building in downtown Christchurch when the top two floors collapsed. ”It was a miracle really to have walked out. It was a massive earthquake, unbelievable, just took you off your feet really.

”The split-second decision was to run out into the street or dive under a car or under a table, and I went under a table just as the whole facade of the building collapsed on to the street, so I’m pretty grateful for that instinctive decision.

”It would’ve been all over then because the whole facade came into the street, crushing cars. Then it was just like a battle zone really, just a street full of dust and screaming people and the smell of gas.”

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