Scores killed in New Zealand earthquake

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

One of New Zealand's biggest cities lay in ruins today after a powerful earthquake toppled tall buildings and churches on a busy weekday, killing at least 65 people in the country's worst natural disaster in decades.





The quake even shook a massive chunk of ice from New Zealand's biggest glacier, some 120 miles to the east of Christchurch, where most of the damage was reported.



More than 100 people, including as many as a dozen visiting Japanese students, were thought to be trapped in the rubble as darkness — and drizzling rain — fell. Rescue crews with sniffer dogs fanned out across the city in search of survivors, some of whom were able to send text messages or make phone calls from under the wreckage.



It was the second major quake to hit Christchurch, a city of 350,000, in five months, though today's 6.3-magnitude quake caused far more destruction than a stronger September quake that struck before dawn on a weekend.



"It is just a scene of utter devastation," Prime Minister John Key said after rushing to the city within hours of the quake. He said the death toll was 65, and may rise. "We may well be witnessing New Zealand's darkest day."



The spire of the city's well-known stone cathedral toppled into a central square, while multistory buildings collapsed in on themselves and streets were strewn with bricks and shattered concrete.



Sidewalks and roads were cracked and split, while thousands of dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered through the streets as sirens and car alarms blared. Ambulance services were quickly overwhelmed, and some victims clutching bleedings wounds were carried to private vehicles in makeshift stretchers fashioned from rugs or bits of debris.



Nathanael Boehm, a web designer, said he was standing near a tram track when the quake struck just before 1pm, sending the eaves of buildings cascading onto the street below.



"It was horrific. People were covered in rubble, covered in several tons of concrete," Boehm said, adding that he believed some of them had been crushed to death.



Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city centre. He said it was impossible to say how many people were trapped in the rubble, but that it was estimated to be more than 100.



"The government is willing to throw everything it can in the rescue effort," Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said. "Time is going to be of essence."





Troops were deployed to help people get out and to throw up a security cordon around the stricken area, and residents throughout the city were urged to stay home or with neighbours and conserve water and food.



The airport was closed, and Christchurch Hospital was briefly evacuated before reopening. Power and telephone lines were knocked out, and pipes burst, flooding the streets with water. Some cars parked on the street were buried under rubble.



Police said reports of fatalities included people in two buses that had been crushed by falling buildings.



During hours of chaos in the city, people dug through rubble with their hands to free people trapped. Firefighters climbed extension ladders to pluck people stranded on roofs to safety. A crane lifted a team of rescuers on a platform to one group of survivors in a high-rise. Plumes of gray smoke drifted into the air at several points around the city from fires burning in the rubble.



Officials established relief centers in schools and community halls, where food was being served to thousands of sheltering people and blankets were being handed out. In at least one park, people — many of them tourists who had abandoned their hotels — huddled in hastily pitched tents and under plastic sheeting. The Red Cross was working to secure accommodation for them.



Key said eight or nine buildings had collapsed, and others were badly damaged.



Some of those stuck were thought to be visiting Japanese students who called their parents back home to say they were in a collapsed building, a Japanese official said.



Two students from the Toyama College of Foreign Languages remained trapped, while 11 were unaccounted for and could still be in the building, said the official from Toyama Prefecture. Eight students and two teachers from the school had been freed from the wreckage, he said.



Others were also able to call out using their mobile phones, reaching family, officials, and media.



"I rang my kids to say goodbye," said Ann Voss, interviewed by TV3 from underneath her desk where she was trapped in a collapsed office building. "It was absolutely horrible. My daughter was crying and I was crying because I honestly thought that was it. You know, you want to tell them you love them don't you?"



She said she could hear other people still alive in the building, and had called out to them and communicated by knocking on rubble.



"I'm not going to give up," she said. "I'm going to stay awake now. They better come and get me."



The multistory Pyne Gould Guinness Building, housing more than 200 workers, collapsed and an unknown number of people were trapped inside. Rescuers, many of them office workers, dragged severely injured people from the rubble. Many had blood streaming down their faces. Screams could be heard from those still trapped.



Tour guides at the Tasman Glacier in the Southern Alps say the quake shook some 30 million tons of ice to off the glacier, forming icebergs in the lake. The falling ice created waves up to 3.5-metres high, which swept up and down the lake for 30 minutes.









The US Geological Survey said the quake was centred three miles from the city at a depth of 2.5 miles. It was felt across a large part of the South Island, and caused damage in nearby towns. The extent of damage elsewhere wasn't immediately clear.



"When the shaking had stopped I looked out of the window, which gives a great view onto Christchurch, and there was just dust," said city councilman Barry Corbett, who was on one of the top floors of the city council building when the quake struck. "It was evident straight away that a lot of buildings had gone."



The USGS said the latest quake was part of the "aftershock sequence" following the 7.1 magnitude earthquake on September 4 last year. That quake wrecked hundreds of buildings, inflicted an estimated 4 billion New Zealand dollars ($3 billion) in damage, but caused no deaths.



A strong aftershock in December caused further damage to buildings. The city was still rebuilding from those quakes when today's quake hit.



The USGS said the latest quake hit "significantly closer to the main population centre of Christchurch" than the September quake, which was centred 25 miles west of city.



Known in New Zealand as the Garden City, Christchurch exudes the heritage of its 19th century English founders. A shallow river, the Avon, winds gently through the downtown that is traversed by historic tram lines and dotted with Gothic architecture, parks and sidewalk cafes.



New Zealand's worst earthquake was one that struck in 1931 at Hawke's Bay on the country's North Island, which killed at least 256 people.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Life and Style
love + sex
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
Jeffrey Archer holds up a copy of 'Kane and Abel', a book he says was ripped-off by Bollywood
books
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Fay Weldon suggested authors should tailor their work for Kindle readers
books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers