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Quake kills 65 in New Zealand's 'darkest day'

Eight Japanese feared trapped after N. Z. quake
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 22, 2011 - Fears grew on Tuesday for at least seven Japanese language students and their teacher who were believed trapped under rubble after a powerful quake struck the city of Christchurch in New Zealand. Two people from a group of 23 language students and teachers had been hospitalised, one with broken bones -- but at least eight others were feared to be trapped and awaiting rescue, officials and media reports said. The group, on a month-long tour to study English, were eating lunch in the cafeteria of the King's Education college when the quake hit, said officials at the Toyama College of Foreign Languages.

They said one female teacher had contacted her family by text message, saying she was trapped inside the building with seven students, and that the family had not heard from her since. "We believe many students are waiting for rescue," an official said in a televised press conference, adding that communications were bad and that people in Japan had been unable to speak to the group. "One of the teachers who were leading the group was trapped under rubble. The guiding teacher contacted her family, saying there were seven students around her," he said. "It was what she saw in the dark as the power supply had been cut."

Woman trapped in New Zealand quake speaks to son
Sydney (AFP) Feb 22, 2011 - A woman trapped under her desk in quake-hit New Zealand spoke Tuesday of her fears that the rest of the building might collapse on top of her as she waited in the darkness. Anne Voss spoke by mobile phone from inside the flattened Pyne Gould building, where she had been pinned under the desk for about eight hours since the 6.3 magnitude quake hit Christchurch at lunchtime on Tuesday.

"I am hoping they will get me out soon because I have been here so long. And it's dark. And it's horrible," Voss told Australia's Channel Seven. "I went under my desk and the ceiling collapsed on top of the desk," Voss said. "So I am sort of squashed underneath. I haven't been able to move really." Asked whether she was OK, Voss replied: "I am not sure, I am bleeding." "I know I am bleeding and I can feel the ground is quite wet. I think it's blood," she said, adding that she believed one of her hands was injured.

Voss, who said her son had rung her from Australia to check on her, explained she had been at the reception of the office when the quake hit and rubble had separated her from colleagues who were with her. "They are on the other side and I have no idea what condition they are in or what's happening," she said. "I can hear them at times, but we're just stuck. We're just waiting. It's really hard." The woman said family and friends had been calling her mobile phone to help keep her spirits up, but confessed: "I keep thinking if it is just going to fall on top of me."
by Staff Writers
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 22, 2011
A powerful earthquake killed at least 65 people in New Zealand's second city Christchurch Tuesday, crushing buildings and vehicles and leaving hundreds trapped and screaming for help.

"We may be witnessing New Zealand's darkest day," Prime Minister John Key said after the 6.3-magnitude quake pummelled the city, just six months after buildings were weakened by a 7.0 quake that miraculously claimed no victims.

"People are just sitting on the side of the road, their heads in their hands. This is a community that is absolutely in agony," Key said, warning that the toll was likely to rise.

New Zealand's deadliest tremor in 80 years struck as city streets were packed with lunchtime shoppers, and turned central Christchurch into a rubble-strewn disaster zone littered with dazed and bleeding residents.

The city's iconic cathedral lost its spire, and the six-storey Canterbury TV building was reduced to a smoking ruin.

Rescue helicopters plucked survivors to safety from the rooftops of buildings where staircases had collapsed, and emergency workers used giant cranes to pull office workers out of ruined city buildings.

"They are going to come and get you down. Just keep away from the edge," one woman yelled to a distraught colleague trapped on the top level of what had been a four-storey building, but which folded like a concertina.

The distressed woman was rescued by fire workers on a crane soon afterwards, and hugged her colleagues after reaching the ground which was littered with shattered glass, office paperwork and broken computers and desks.

Media reports quoted Christchurch's mayor Bob Parker as saying that up to 200 people may still be trapped inside ruined buildings. Police drafted in urban search and rescue teams in an urgent attempt to locate survivors.

A woman trapped under her desk in one of the city's worst-hit buildings gave an interview by telephone from beneath the rubble.

"I know I am bleeding and I can feel the ground is quite wet. I think it's blood," Anne Voss told an Australian television station, adding that she believed one of her hands was injured.

Miranda Newbury was on the third floor of another city building when the quake hit, forcing her to make her way down through a darkened, crumbling staircase.

"I really thought my time was up. When I finally got outside, there was dust everywhere - it looked like a war zone. Very surreal," she said.

Other churches were partly destroyed in the tremor and the local newspaper's offices were badly hit. Reports said survivors there were frantically texting relatives as they took shelter under their desks.

"The centre of the city bore the brunt (in September) but nothing like this time, where it's been absolutely devastated," Key said, adding that the air force was mobilising Hercules transporter planes for the relief effort.

"What was a vibrant city a few hours ago now has been brought to its knees."

Local station TV3 said dead bodies had been pulled from a hostel and a bookshop, and that a tourist was crushed to death in a van. All flights in the country were briefly suspended after a Christchurch control tower was damaged.

Power was cut to thousands of residents, mobile phone networks were disrupted and road and rail transport was badly hit after the violent tremor, which tore gaping fissures in asphalt.

Water mains were also burst, unleashing a torrent of water that joined with heavy rains to inundate the suburb of Bexley and cause surface flooding in other areas of the city.

Video footage showed a landslide crushing a small building, while passersby fled for their lives from underneath a collapsing awning. Several strong aftershocks pummelled the stricken city.

"This is about as bad as it gets," said Parker, who declared a five-day state of emergency and said emergency crews would work through the night to reach the dozens of trapped people.

"What the picture will be in the morning, God only knows," he added.

New Zealand national cricket team, in India for the World Cup, reacted in horror to the grim news.

"Thoughts go out to the people of Chch today. Terrible thing to have happened again," batsman Martin Guptill wrote on Twitter.

The quake is the most deadly to hit New Zealand since a 7.8-magnitude tremor killed 256 people in the Hawke's Bay region in 1931.

The September 4 tremor, measured at 7.0 magnitude, struck overnight and damaged 100,000 homes but claimed no lives.

Seismologists said that despite being smaller, the latest tremor was more destructive than the earlier quake because it was nearer to Christchurch's centre and much closer to the earth's surface.

New Zealand sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire", a vast zone of seismic and volcanic activity stretching from Chile on one side to Japan and Indonesia on the other.

earlier related report
Australian casualties possible in NZ quake: PM
Sydney (AFP) Feb 22, 2011 - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned the nation to brace for the possibility that its citizens were among the dead after a violent earthquake in New Zealand that claimed at least 65 lives.

Gillard said there were some 8,000 Australians registered in the South Island's Canterbury region, where a devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch city Tuesday, toppling buildings.

"There is a possibility in these circumstances that we will see Australians who have been caught up and have been hurt or potentially killed in this disaster," the prime minister said.

"We do need to prepare for that possibility."

Two search and rescue crews would be dispatched to help relief efforts and Gillard said a medical team would also be sent, saying Australia understood the pain of natural disasters after a season of cyclones and killer floods.

"After the summer we've had here in Australia we know what it's like to wait and to worry, we know what it's like to see devastating scenes, we know what it's like to grieve loss."

Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest city, is still reeling from a 7.0 magnitude quake in September that damaged 100,000 homes but miraculously did not kill anyone.

The city of 340,000 was not so lucky Tuesday, with at least 65 people perishing as buildings tumbled in the lunch-time rush with many others feared trapped beneath the rubble.

Gillard earlier told parliament that she'd spoken to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and told him Australia stood ready to provide any form of assistance required.

"We wish the people of New Zealand well at this time, they are in an urgent and very difficult situation."

"We wish them all the speed in the world with the rescue efforts and we hope that they are able to make as many people safe as possible as soon as possible."

Australia's national women's cricket team, the Southern Stars, were training in the New Zealand city when the quake hit but were all safe.

"Wee bit of an earthquake during indoor training today. 6.3 on the Richter scale. We can all exit a building extremely rapidly!" the team wrote on its official Twitter stream.

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Philippine quake frightens resort city
Baguio, Philippines (AFP) Feb 18, 2011
Hundreds of people fled into streets when a moderate earthquake struck the Philippine resort city of Baguio on Friday, witnesses said, though there were no casualties nor damage. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the quake had a magnitude of 5.0 and was only 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) deep. With an epicentre just outside Baguio it set objects moving, terrifying r ... read more

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