Frantic hunt as quake leaves 400 dead, missing

2011-02-23 09:01

Christchurch, New Zealand – Hundreds of rescuers swarmed over

twisted and smoking buildings today in a frantic search for survivors after New

Zealand’s catastrophic earthquake left nearly 400 dead or missing.

Emergency services cordoned off central Christchurch, which was

devastated by yesterday’s shallow, 6.3-magnitude tremor, to hunt for anyone

still alive along with an unknown number of bodies buried in the rubble.

Prime Minister John Key declared a national emergency as 75 bodies

were recovered, while about 30 people were rescued overnight. About 300 people

are still missing after New Zealand’s worst natural disaster in 80 years.

Key said the quake had “wreaked death and destruction on a dreadful

scale” in the country’s second biggest city, six months after a 7.0-magnitude

quake shook buildings violently in Christchurch but miraculously caused no

deaths.

The latest tremor toppled many buildings and left central

Christchurch strewn with debris.

The city’s landmark cathedral lost its spire.

Dozens of aftershocks rocked the city, much of which was without power and

water.

Rescuers had to amputate limbs to free some survivors, but

abandoned hope for any victims trapped in the flattened CTV building, which

housed a school for foreign English-language students.

Twenty-four Japanese citizens were among the missing, including 11

students who were studying at the King’s Education College inside the six-storey

CTV building along with a South Korean brother and sister in their early

20s.

“This particular site, CTV site, had a number of overseas students

in it and my heart goes out to those families that are away knowing that some of

their children, family have probably been killed in this incident,” said police

operations commander Dave Lawry.

“The situation is that we don’t believe this site is now

survivable.”

One resident said he saw a woman die with her baby in her arms when

she was hit by falling debris in Cashel St Mall, two blocks from the CTV site.

She was killed instantly, but the baby survived.

“We tried to pull these big bricks off her, she was gone,” Tom

Brittenden told the Christchurch Press.

Police Superintendent Russell Gibson warned that the toll was

certain to rise as more than 500 emergency workers combed through shattered

buildings, listening out for tapping, shouting and other signs of life.

“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.

“We are getting texts and tapping sounds from some of these

buildings and that’s where the focus is at the moment.”

Some rescue efforts were frustrated by a two-block exclusion zone

around the city’s tallest hotel, the Grand Chancellor, as the 26-storey building

leaned precariously and looked close to collapse.

But there was applause when a woman wrapped in blankets emerged

from the Pyne Gould Corporation building, some 24 hours after the quake rocked

busy lunchtime streets at about 12:50 pm yesterday.

The survivor’s sister, Sally Bodkin-Allen, said her sibling had

ducked under a desk when the quake struck.

“It just seems like a miracle it must be a very strong desk and she

must have got under it very quickly,” Bodkin-Allen told Fairfax media.

Resident Mark Maynard kept an anxious vigil outside the Pyne Gould

building for his wife, who works on the first floor and called 20 minutes before

the quake to say she had forgotten her mobile phone.

“It is still no good at the moment.

I am hanging around waiting,

what do you do?” Maynard told Fairfax.

The clock is ticking for those trapped, with New Zealand’s

emergency management chief John Hamilton saying rescuers may have just two or

three days to pull out anyone still alive.

The quake was the deadliest to hit New Zealand since 256 people

died in a 1931 tremor, and Key’s declaration of a state of emergency will free

up national resources to focus on Christchurch.

Leading disaster modelling company AIR Worldwide said the

earthquake would cost the insurance industry up to NZ$11.5 billion (R61.2

billion).

Specialist teams from Australia, Britain, Japan, Singapore, South

Korea, Taiwan and the United States were due to join the rescue operation as an

international effort swung into action.

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.

Seismologists said that despite being smaller, the latest tremor

was more destructive than the September quake because it was nearer to

Christchurch’s centre and much closer to the earth’s surface.

 

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