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Scores trapped in Christchurch quake debris: police

US sends search team to NZealand
Washington (AFP) Feb 22, 2011 - The United States sent a search and rescue team to New Zealand on Tuesday to help in the aftermath of a powerful, deadly earthquake that hit the country's second city. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a message of support to the people of New Zealand saying she was "deeply saddened by the news that a second major earthquake in six months has struck Christchurch." "The United States stands ready to provide assistance to the government of New Zealand and to the brave people of Christchurch," Clinton said in a statement, sending condolences on behalf of President Barack Obama. "Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this terrible tragedy, especially the families of the victims, and with all the people of New Zealand," she added. The United States is sending a team of 70 specialized staff, some from the Los Angeles County fire department, with equipment "to make live rescues in even the most precarious situations," USAID said in a statement.

"On behalf of the American people, I wish to convey our sympathy, thoughts and prayers to the people of New Zealand who have been affected by this devastating earthquake," said USAID administrator Rajiv Shah. The tremor hit at lunchtime Tuesday, toppling buildings and leaving downtown Christchurch strewn with debris. The city's landmark cathedral lost its spire. A team of US officials were in Christchurch for meetings with New Zealand counterparts at the moment the quake struck. They included retired admiral Thad Allen who led the US response to last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill and former number two diplomat Richard Armitage. US media reported that all were said to be safe. But an estimated 100 people remained trapped in earthquake-hit buildings in Christchurch, police said, warning the current death toll of 65 was set to rise significantly. Superintendent Russell Gibson told Radio New Zealand the number of trapped "could be another 100, it could easily be more than that." Christchurch was hit as it was still recovering from an even stronger, 7.0 magnitude quake in September which caused extensive damage but no fatalities.
by Staff Writers
Christchurch (AFP) Feb 23, 2011
Rescuers had to amputate limbs to free survivors from collapsed buildings in earthquake-hit Christchurch, police said Wednesday, estimating 100 people remained trapped in the rubble.

Superintendent Russell Gibson said bodies still littered the streets of New Zealand's second city after Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake and the death toll of 65 was set to rise significantly.

"There is incredible carnage right throughout the city," he told Radio New Zealand. "There are bodies littering the streets, they are trapped in cars and crushed under rubble."

Gibson said the number of trapped "could be another 100, it could easily be more than that", adding the toll would rise from 65. "It will be significantly higher than that," he said.

More than 500 rescuers, including police and military personnel, pulled between 20 and 30 people from the debris overnight, toiling through the darkness, he added.

"It's quite amazing, we have some people we've pulled out and they haven't got so much as a scratch on them, we've had other people where we've had to amputate limbs to get them out," he said.

Gibson said emergency workers were going door to door through the city centre calling out to anyone who was trapped, with rescue efforts concentrating on two office buildings where survivors had managed to communicate with them.

"We are getting texts and tapping sounds from some of these buildings and that's where the focus is at the moment," he said.

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

earlier related report
Quake kills 65 in New Zealand's 'darkest day'
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 22, 2011 - Rescuers searched through the night for survivors after a powerful quake killed at least 65 people in New Zealand's second city Christchurch Tuesday, crushing buildings and vehicles.

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

"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 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 cathedral lost its spire while 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 buildings.

Media reports quoted Christchurch's mayor Bob Parker as saying that up to 200 people may still be trapped inside ruined buildings.

Among those unaccounted for were 11 students and teachers from a language school in the Japanese city of Toyama, Japan's Jiji Press news agency reported.

Police drafted in urban search and rescue teams in an attempt to locate survivors, while Japan, Australia and the United States were among countries sending rescuers to help.

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," 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.

Water mains also burst, unleashing a torrent of water that joined with heavy rains to inundate the suburb of Bexley.

Video footage showed a landslide crushing a small building. 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 all night.

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

By late Tuesday, dozens had offered rooms on a Facebook group set up to provide accommodation to victims. Air New Zealand offered cheap one-way fares of NZ$50 (US$37) for all flights into and out of Christchurch.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth, who is New Zealand's head of state, said she was "utterly shocked" by the disaster while the national cricket team, in India for the World Cup, reacted in horror to the 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 deadliest 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, damaged 100,000 homes but killed no one.

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.

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Quake kills 65 in New Zealand's 'darkest day'
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 cl ... read more

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