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Christchurch Quake Rescuers Search Offices for Survivors

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Christchurch Quake Rescuers Search Offices for Survivors
Office workers are escorted out of the central business district of Christchurch. Photographer: Martin Hunter/Getty Images

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Rescuers in Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-largest city, are combing through the ruins of office buildings today as they search for trapped survivors of the nation’s deadliest earthquake in 80 years.

Search-and-rescue workers are digging through wreckage left by yesterday’s magnitude 6.3 quake that killed at least 39 people, according to the Civil Defense department’s website. The number of dead is likely to rise, it said, after yesterday reporting a provisional count of 65. More than 100 people may be trapped in collapsed structures, Bob Parker, Christchurch’s mayor, said yesterday.

“Our number one focus is on search and rescue,” Prime Minister John Key said in an interview with Television New Zealand today. “Debris has fallen and potentially crushed a number of people. In other buildings they are trapped.”

Searchers extracted people alive from several city buildings, New Zealand Police said in an e-mailed statement. Some had limbs amputated so they could be saved, Police Superintendent Russell Gibson told Television New Zealand.

Searchers are in contact with some survivors still trapped in the rubble, Gibson said. Unrecovered bodies remain in at least two of the worst-affected buildings, he said. About 250 rescuers have been deployed, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said yesterday.

Deadly Temblor

“There are still noises, so people are still in there,” Steve Barclay from Urban Search and Rescue told Television New Zealand. “It’s very painstaking work. Just because someone’s tapping doesn’t mean they’re one meter away.”

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 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 traveling 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.

Buildings Sway

Yesterday’s temblor 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.

“The building was swinging and jolting and threw me out of the chair across the room,” Angela McLeish, who was in the Forsyth Barr Ltd building when the quake struck, told Television New Zealand. “I tried to crawl across the room to get to a doorway.”

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.

Currency Reacts

New Zealand’s currency, nicknamed the kiwi, slid versus all of its 16 major counterparts in New York trading. The kiwi tumbled 3.1 percent versus the Swiss franc to 70.06 centimes and touched 70 cents, the lowest level since July 2009. It fell 2.3 percent to 74.66 U.S. cents, after earlier reaching 74.55 cents, the weakest level since Dec. 23. New Zealand’s currency dropped 2.8 percent to 61.76 yen.

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.

Damage Mounts

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.

“It’s going to delay the rate at which repair work on infrastructure proceeds,” Mark Binns, head of infrastructure at Fletcher Building Ltd, said in a Television New Zealand interview. “We’re going to have to look at resources from other parts of New Zealand and potentially offshore.”

The government selected Fletcher Building to manage Christchurch’s rebuilding following the Sept. 4 quake.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Bourke in Wellington at cbourke4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Iain Wilson at iwilson2@bloomberg.net

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