Rescuers in the New Zealand city of Christchurch are combing through collapsed ruins of office buildings today as they search for trapped survivors of New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake in eight decades.
Search-and-rescue workers are digging through wreckage left by yesterday’s magnitude 6.3 quake that killed at least 38 people, Prime Minister John Key said in a Television New Zealand interview today. That number is likely to rise, said Key, who yesterday reported a provisional count of 65. More than 100 people may be trapped in collapsed structures, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said yesterday.
“Our number one focus is on search and rescue,” Key said in the interview. “Debris has fallen and potentially crushed a number of people. In other buildings they are trapped.”
Searchers extracted people alive from several buildings central city buildings, New Zealand Police said in an e-mailed statement. Some were saved after limbs were amputated, Police Superintendent Russell Gibson told Television New Zealand.
Searchers are in contact with some survivors still trapped in the rubble, Gibson said. There are also yet-unrecovered bodies in at least two of the worst-affected buildings, he said. About 250 rescuers have been deployed, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said yesterday.
The death toll from the quake, the strongest since September when the city was shaken by a 7.0 magnitude temblor, is the worst since the Napier earthquake in 1931 killed 256. Yesterday’s quake sent office workers in the country’s second- largest city fleeing into streets strewn with shattered glass, paper, bricks and broken concrete.
“We might be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day,” Key said on Television New Zealand yesterday after travelling from the capital of Wellington to the South Island city. “It’s just a scene of utter devastation.”
Damage to central city buildings was greater than the September temblor because it was shallower and centered just 10 kilometers southeast of Christchurch, according to geonet.org.nz. The Sept. 4 quake was focused 55 kilometers northwest of the city and was also deeper.
Yesterday’s temblor also struck at 12:51 p.m. local time during the lunchtime break, whereas the September temblor, hit at 4:35 a.m. and claimed no lives.
Emergency service workers continued to clear the streets of the central business district overnight and extinguish fires in ruined buildings. About 200 additional police are being sent from around New Zealand to help the city of almost 400,000 people.
The quake destroyed buildings and parts of structures in the main business area of Christchurch, including a section of its iconic cathedral. Two buses were crushed by falling buildings, police said. Smoke billowed on to the streets from office buildings reduced to rubble.
The nation’s currency, known as the kiwi, dropped for the first time in five days yesterday. It fell as low as 74.70 U.S. cents, the least since Dec. 28, before trading at 74.78 U.S. cents as of 8:25 a.m. in Wellington. It fell 1.6 percent to 62.49 yen yesterday, the biggest slide since Nov. 23 and also the weakest since Dec. 28.
The prime minister called an emergency Cabinet meeting in Wellington yesterday before he travelled to Christchurch. New Zealand may accept offers of international help, English told reporters.
The impact of the quake was capable of “condemning the New Zealand economy to another year of anemic growth due to forces beyond its control,” Katrina Ell, a Sydney-based economist at Moody’s Analytics Australia Pty Ltd., said in a report.
Christchurch’s airport closed after the quake hit and reopened early today, according to a statement on its website.
Jetstar, the budget unit of Qantas Airways Ltd., said in a statement that it plans to resume flights, initially domestic services, around midday to and from Christchurch airport when it fully reopens. Virgin Blue Holdings Ltd., Australia’s second- biggest airline, said it had halted services to Christchurch.
Residents were being advised to use phones for emergency services only after Telecom Corp. of New Zealand said some of its network sites were badly damaged. BP Oil New Zealand said that all its service stations in Christchurch had been shut for safety inspections.
The offices of investment company Pyne Gould Corp Ltd., located near Christchurch’s city center, collapsed after the quake and trapped workers are still inside, according to TV3. The company’s shares slumped 8.8 percent to 31 New Zealand cents yesterday in Wellington.
Hospitals around the South Island have been cleared to take earthquake patients, John Carter, New Zealand’s minister for civil defense, told TV3. C
The quake served as a reminder of the jolt in Christchurch on Sept. 4 that shook consumer confidence and contributed to a 0.2 percent drop in gross domestic product in the third quarter. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand estimates the September temblor caused NZ$5 billion ($3.78 billion) of damage.
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