February 22, 2011 / 3:33 AM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 9-New Zealand quake kills at least 65; many trapped

 * Christchurch Mayor says up to 200 may still be trapped in
buildings
 * Main hospital sees influx of seriously injured
 * City hit a second time by quake, aftershocks continue
 * Most deadly natural disaster for 80 years
 * Army and helicopters help in rescue

 (Adds two buildings that are focus of rescue efforts; rain)	
 By Gyles Beckford	
 WELLINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A strong earthquake killed at
least 65 people in New Zealand's second-biggest city of
Christchurch on Tuesday, with more casualties expected as
rescuers worked into the night to find scores of people trapped
inside collapsed buildings.	
 It was the second quake to hit the city of almost 400,000
people in five months, and New Zealand's most deadly natural
disaster for 80 years.	
 "We may well be witnessing New Zealand's darkest day...The
death toll I have at the moment is 65 and that may rise," said
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who had flown to his home
town of Christchurch, where he still has family.	
 The 6.3 magnitude quake struck at lunchtime, when streets
and shops thronged with people and offices were still occupied.	
 Rescuers, working under lights in rain, focused on two
collapsed buildings: a financial-services office block whose
four stories pancaked on top of each other, and a TV building
which also housed an English-language school.	
 Twelve Japanese students at the school were believed to be
missing, an official in Japan told Reuters.	
 Trapped survivors could be heard shouting out to rescuers
from the TV building. Local media say as many as a dozen or more
people could still be inside. Relatives of those feared trapped
kept a vigil outside the building as rain began to fall.	
 A woman freed from a collapsed building said she had waited
for six hours for rescuers to reach her after the quake, which
was followed by at least 20 aftershocks. 	
 "I thought the best place was under the desk but the ceiling
collapsed on top, I can't move and I'm just terrified," office
worker Anne Voss told TV3 news by mobile phone.	
  
 Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker described the city, a historic
tourist town popular with overseas students, as a war zone. He
told local radio that up to 200 could be trapped in buildings
but later revised that estimate down to around 100 or so.	
 "It is a tragedy that is unbelievable," he said.	
 It was the country's worst natural disaster since a 1931
quake in the North Island city of Napier which killed 256.   
Christchurch Hospital saw an influx of injured residents.	
 "They are largely crushes and cuts types of injuries and
chest pain as well," said David Meates, head of the Canterbury
Health Board. Some of the more seriously injured could be
evacuated to other cities, he added.	
 	
 TRAPPED 	
 All army medical staff have been mobilised, while several
hundred troops were helping with the rescue, officials said.	
 Christchurch has been described as a little piece of
England.	
 It has an iconic cathedral, now largely destroyed, and a
river called the Avon. It had many historic stone buildings, and
is popular with English-language students and also with tourists
as a springboard for tours of the scenic South Island.	
 Emergency shelters had also been set up in local schools and
at a race course as night approached. Helicopters dumped water
to try to douse a fire in one tall office building, while a
crane was used to help workers trapped in another office block.	
 "I was in the square right outside the cathedral -- the
whole front has fallen down and there were people running from
there. There were people inside as well," said John Gurr, a
camera technician who was in the city centre when the quake hit.	
 "A lady grabbed hold of me to stop falling over...We just
got blown apart. Colombo Street, the main street, is just a
mess...There's lots of water everywhere, pouring out of the
ground," he said.	
      	
 STREETS TURN INTO QUICKSAND	
 Christchurch is built on silt, sand and gravel, with a water
table beneath. In an earthquake, the water rises, mixing with
the sand and turning the ground into a swamp, swallowing up
roads and cars.	
 TV footage showed sections of road that had collapsed into a
milky, sand-coloured lake beneath the surface. One witness
described the footpaths as like "walking on sand".	
 Unlike last year's even stronger tremor, which struck early
in the morning when streets were virtually empty, people were
walking or driving along streets when the shallow tremor struck,
sending awnings and the entire faces of buildings crashing down.	
 Police said debris had rained down on two buses, crushing
them, but there was no word on any casualties.	
 The quake hit at 12:51 pm (2351 GMT Monday) at a depth of
only 4 km (2.5 miles), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.	
	
 QUAKE COULD DAMAGE ALREADY FRAIL ECONOMY	
 Fears that the quake could dent confidence in the country's
already fragile economy knocked the New Zealand dollar down by
about 1.8 percent from late U.S. levels to $0.75 .	
 Westpac Bank raised the possibility that the central bank
could cut interest rates over the next few weeks in a bid to
shore up the economy, while other banks pushed out their
expectations for the timing of the next rate increase.	
 ANZ now expects the central bank to keep rates on hold until
the first quarter of 2012.	
 Shares in Australian banks and insurers, which typically
have large operations in New Zealand, fell after the quake.	
 The tremor was centred about 10 km (six miles) southwest of
Christchurch, which had suffered widespread damage during last
September's 7.1 magnitude quake but no deaths.	
 New Zealand sits between the Pacific and Indo-Australian
tectonic plates and records on average more than 14,000
earthquakes a year, of which about 20 would normally top
magnitude 5.0.	
	
 (Additional reporting by Bruce Hextall, Michael Smith and
Cecile Lefort in Sydney; Saika Takano in Tokyo; Writing by Mark
Bendeich and Ed Davies; Editing by Daniel Magnowski & Kim
Coghill)	
 
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