At least 65 dead, scores missing after NZ quake

Buildings in Christchurch's central business district lie heavily damaged 
after a powerful earthquake ripped through the city.

Rescue teams worked under floodlights in the early hours of today searching for scores of people trapped after an earthquake struck New Zealand’s second-biggest city, killing at least 65 people.

It was the second strong quake in five months to hit Christchurch, a city of almost 400,000 people. About 120 survivors had been pulled from the rubble, but the death toll was expected to rise.

“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 Prime Minister John Key, who had flown to his home city.

Authorities said they had formally identified 32 dead, but more bodies were found in collapsed buildings and crushed cars.

“We have a temporary mortuary here at Christchurch police station, and I have 38 bodies here at the moment and the streets are still littered with bodies,” police shift commander Russell Gibson said on Radio New Zealand.

“I know that the figure of 65 has been mentioned. I know it will be significantly higher than that.”

Tuesday’s 6.3 magnitude quake struck at lunchtime, when streets and shops were thronged with people and offices were still occupied. It was New Zealand’s most deadly natural disaster for 80 years.

Rescuers, working through the night under floodlights, focused on two buildings: a financial services block, whose four stories fell on top of each other, and a television building that also housed an English-language school.

About a dozen Japanese students at the school were believed to be missing, an official in Japan told Reuters, and Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said several other students from another group in the building were also unaccounted for.


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