CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — Office workers trapped under their collapsed buildings sent messages to the outside as rescuers with dogs scrambled to save them and dozens of others following a powerful earthquake that killed at least 65 in one of New Zealand’s largest cities.
At least 100 people were reportedly buried in rubble as teams worked through the night to try to reach them through slabs of crumbled concrete and twisted metal.
As night fell, thousands of people moved into temporary shelters at schools and community halls in Christchurch. Others, including tourists who had abandoned their hotels, huddled in hastily pitched tents and under plastic sheeting as drizzling rain fell, while the Red Cross tried to find them accommodation.
Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude quake, the second powerful temblor to hit Christchurch in five months, toppled the spire of the city’s historic stone cathedral, flattened tall buildings and sent chunks of concrete and bricks hurtling onto cars, buses and pedestrians below.
The quake even shook off a massive chunk of ice from New Zealand’s biggest glacier some some 120 miles to the east.
Web designer Nathaniel Boehm was outside on his lunch break when the quake struck just before 1 p.m. He saw the eaves of buildings cascade onto the street, burying people below. Others tried to claw their way in, but he didn’t see anyone come out.
“People were covered in rubble, covered in several tons of concrete,” he said. “It was horrific.”
On Tuesday, rescuers, many of them office workers, were seen dragging severely injured people from the rubble of the Pyne Gould Guinness Building, where more than 200 people worked. Screams could be heard from those still inside.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said it was impossible to say how many were still trapped in the rubble citywide, but it was estimated to be more than 100. He added that 200 workers skilled in rescues would search through the night.
“We’ve got tens of thousands of people just like me who are feeling very scared, very worried and very uncertain of what this night will bring and frankly very, very depressed about what we’ll hear tomorrow,” Mr. Parker told reporters. “It’s not going to be good news and we need to steel ourselves to understand that.”
Some who were trapped were 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.”
A search and rescue team was being flown in from Australia to help in the recovery, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she had offered New Zealand counterpart John Key any other support he requested.