Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Multiple fatalities after 6.3 quake hits NZ

There are reports of multiple fatalities after a powerful 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the city of Christchurch on New Zealand's South Island. At least 65 people had died according to New Zealand's prime minister John Key who described a scene of "utter devastation" following the earthquake which hit at 12:51 local time on Tuesday [23:51 GMT on Monday] only 10km south-east of the city.

There is widespread destruction and many buildings have collapsed. Television pictures showed cars crushed by falling debris and there are reports that two buses were buried under rubble.

The landmark cathedral was severely damaged and much of the city is without power. The central business district is believed to have been badly affected where many are believed trapped. The airport has been closed and a state of emergency has been declared. Authorities are asking residents to minimise the use of mobile phones so as to free the system for emergency services.

Mayor Bob Parker called it a "black day" for New Zealand and said there were "scenes of great confusion" as people gathered in the streets for safety. Ambulances were said to be in short supply and some casualties were being transferred to hospital by car. Although an exact figure has not been placed on the number of deaths, officials say there may be multiple fatalities.

The damage is said to be worse than after September's 7.1-magntiude quake. Two people were seriously injured by that tremor, whose epicentre was further away and deeper than Tuesday's earthquake. More than $3bn of damage was caused in the September earthquake and there have been several aftershocks since. A 4.9 magnitude tremor struck just after Christmas, but this most recent event has been the most devastating thus far.

By chance an army unit was on a training exercise in the city when Tuesday's earthquake struck. The troops were able to give immediate assistance to those trapped. However more help is required for dozens believed buried beneath buildings. Several countries have already offered aid, including New Zealand's neighbour Australia.

New Zealand experiences more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, though only around 20 have a magnitude in excess of 5.0. The last fatal earthquake was in 1968, when a 7.1-magnitude tremor killed three people on the South Island's western coast. The latest tremor looks to be the deadliest, both in terms of casualties and damage in the country's recent history [BBC / CNN / TVNZ].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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