New Zealand quake kills 65; dozens trapped

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In the immediate aftermath, dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered the streets as sirens and car alarms blared. With ambulance services overwhelmed, some victims were carried to private vehicles in makeshift stretchers fashioned from rugs or bits of debris.

“It is just a scene of utter devastation,” Mr. 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.”

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

A more powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, a city of 350,000, on Sept. 4, but caused no deaths. The latest one may have been deadlier because it was closer to where people live and work, centered 3 miles from the city, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It also may not have been as deep underground.

“The critical issue with this earthquake was that the epicenter was at shallow depth under Christchurch, so many people were within 10 to 20 kilometers (6 to 12 miles) of the fault rupture,” said Gary Gibson, a seismologist at Australia’s Melbourne University.

About 100 faults and fault segments have been recognised around the region, some as close as 12 miles to central Christchurch.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was an aftershock from September’s temblor. A strong aftershock in December caused further damage to buildings.

The city was still rebuilding from those temblor when Tuesday’s quake hit.

Known in New Zealand as the Garden City, Christchurch on the country’s South Island exudes the heritage of its 19th century English founders. A shallow river, the Avon, winds through the downtown that is traversed by historic tram lines and dotted with Gothic architecture, parks and sidewalk cafes. It is a popular destination for foreign tourists and students.

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.

About a dozen visiting Japanese students were among those feared trapped in the rubble of the Canterbury Television building. Some of the students called their parents back home to say they were in a collapsed building, while one of their teachers was able to send an e-mail, Japanese officials said.

One student 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, who would not provide his name because he was not authorized to give public statements. Eight students and two teachers from the school had been freed from the wreckage, he said.

The earthquake knocked out power and telephone lines and burst pipes, flooding the streets with water. Firefighters climbed extension ladders to pluck people trapped on roofs of office towers to safety. Plumes of gray smoke drifted into the air from fires burning in the rubble, and helicopters used giant buckets to drench them with water.

Two large aftershocks — one magnitude 5.6 and another 5.5 — hit the city within two hours, and officials warned people to stay away from damaged buildings because of the danger of further collapses.

A U.S. delegation of 43 government, business and community leaders was in Christchurch on Tuesday for a United States New Zealand Partnership Forum meeting. All were thought to be safe.

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