65 killed as quake shakes up New Zealand city (Second Lead)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CHRISTCHURCH - At least 65 people were killed, buildings were flattened, falling debris crushed vehicles and panic-stricken people shrieked in fear as an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude caused the earth to heave in this New Zealand city.

Prime Minister John Key said the toll stands at 65 and is likely to rise. Key, who flew down to Christchurch in South Island, told One News it was likely the earthquake could be the country’s “darkest day”.

Residents of Christchurch, which is one of the biggest cities of New Zealand, have reported bodies lying on the streets.

TV images showed several collapsed buildings in the centre of Christchurch. A state of emergency has been declared at the city.

“We’ve had friends in town call us and say there are just bodies lying around; lots of dead bodies outside shops just lying there just covered in bricks.

“When it hit we were knocked to our feet. Everything in the house fell down, nothing was left still standing. There’s more damage than the first earthquake, the roads are completely torn up; sewage coming up and flooding. It’s crazy,” New Zealand Herald quoted Christchurch resident Jaydn Katene as saying.

“The elderly are all crying. The next-door neighbours around us were all bawling their eyes out, it was horrible.

“We’ve seen cars halfway sunken into the road. We’ve heard there’s a bus which is sunken halfway into the road just around the corner.

“Buildings are half-collapsed everywhere…It’s pretty shocking; a total warzone,” Katene said.

The earthquake struck at 12.51 p.m., causing extensive damage to this city in the South Island.

Christchurch resident Jane Smith told the Herald that a colleague had helped with rescue efforts after a building facade collapsed on a bus.

“There’s people dead. He was pulling them out of a bus. Colombo St is completely munted,” she was quoted as saying.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told Radio New Zealand: “The centre of the earthquake was in Lyttelton Harbour. There are hills covered in rocks, those rocks would have come down.”

He said there was immense damage to the city centre and people were trapped in buildings.

“Everybody needs to understand that this is going to be a day of very black news,” he said.

DPA adds: Police said emergency services were battling a number of fires and trying to rescue many people trapped in collapsed buildings.

Members of the public have posted videos of destruction, including buildings and cars being crushed in rock slides in suburbs including Sumner and Lyytleton.

Aftershocks were still being felt as buildings were evacuated and people fled the central city area.

Officials asked people to stay off roads as emergency services and the military struggled to get to areas where people could be trapped.

Witnesses said the ground lifted up to one metre in places.

The New Zealand Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences said the epicentre was near Christchurch, at a depth of five km.

The quake, which struck at 12.51 p.m., would have caused more damage than a previous 7.1 earthquake Sep 4 because of its shallow depth, the institute said.

The September quake, with an epicentre 30 km west of the city at a depth of 33 km, struck in the early morning when the city was largely empty. As a result there were no fatalities last year.

Tuesday’s quake brought down power lines, ruptured pipes and forced the closure and evacuation of many buildings including the airport and university, and disrupted phone communications.

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