Fears of many deaths as New Zealand is rocked by ANOTHER huge earthquake
By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
Last updated at 3:08 AM on 22nd February 2011
- People trapped under rubble of collapsed buildings
- City evacuated amid fears of fires and more devastation
- Second huge shock follows initial quake
- Famous Christchurch Cathedral destroyed
New Zealand’s second biggest city Christchurch has been hit by devastation after a major earthquake struck during the busy lunch break today.
Police said ‘multiple fatalities’ were expected and many people were trapped under the rubble after buildings and homes collapsed in the city centre.
The city was being evacuated amid fears that more buildings would come down and fires were breaking out.
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Dozens of buildings have crashed down and roads have broken open as the quake ripped through the stricken city. The famous cathedral in the city centre has been destroyed.
‘It is huge. We just don’t know if there are people under this rubble,’ said a priest, standing outside the ruins of the Cathedral.
Christchurch Hospital was being evacuated amid fears it was on the point of collapse. Power has been cut and phone lines are down.
‘It was incredibly violent – very, very scary, ‘ said visitor Philip Gregan.
‘There has been a lot of damage, our TVs have been smashed and there are big cracks in the house.
Neighbours have lost brick fences,’ Nicholas Hextall, who lives in central Christchurch, said by phone.
Emergency medical centres have been set up on the outskirts to treat the large number of people expected to have suffered serious injuries. Police were also preparing to set up temporary mortuaries.
A Christchurch resident, Peter Jackson, said: ‘It’s impossible to think that no-one has been killed or injured.
‘We’ve had smaller earthquakes and aftershocks in recent months, but this is a big one. We’re all very frightened.’
Emergency sirens rang out through the city following the 6.3 earthquake, which is actually smaller than the 7.1 quake to hit the city last September – but this one has caused more damage to the centre of the city.
The earthquake was centred at Lyttelton, near the city, at a relatively shallow depth of 5km.
The mayor, Bob Parker, said he had received reports of serious injuries, including a number of staff in the city council building.
TV reporter Kate King said: ‘I saw the ground roll up in front of me.
‘It lasted for about 20 to 30 seconds. There are waterfalls of water streaming up, being pushed out of the ground.
‘It’s fair to say I’m a bit scared. There are people hugging each other. It’s quite traumatic. Quite a lot of these people have lost a lot financially and mentally.’
Mayor Parker said today’s quake left people in the city council building injured, and he has heard reports of other serious injuries throughout the city.
Prime Minister John Key, who called an emergency cabinet meeting for later in the day, told parliament:’This is a very populated time with people at work and children at school. Sadly, I cannot rule out whether there have been fatalities or not. But we are aware of significant damage to buildings that had people in them at the time.’
The US Geological Survey said the quake was centred three miles from the city at a depth of 2.5 miles.
Christchurch has been hit by hundreds of aftershocks since a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck on September 4 last year, causing extensive damage and a handful of injuries, but no deaths.
Live video footage showed parts of buildings collapsed into the streets, which were strewn with bricks and shattered concrete.
Pavements and roads were cracked and split, and hundreds of dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered through the streets as sirens blared throughout the city.
Mr Parker said he was on the top floor of the city council building when the quake hit, throwing him across the room.
‘I got down onto the street and there were scenes of great confusion, a lot of very upset people,’ he said. ‘I know of people in our building who are injured and I’ve had some reports of serious injuries throughout the city.’
Radio New Zealand reported that a church near the city centre collapsed.
The station also said staffers in its Christchurch newsroom had to cling to their desks during the shaking, with large filing cabinets toppling over.
Some cars apparently parked on the street were buried under rubble.
‘What I can see from where I am in the central city is that there are significant amounts of additional damage,’ Mr Parker said.
Christchurch is built on silt, sand and gravel, with a water table under it. In an earthquake, the water rises, mixing with sand.
Unlike last year’s even stronger tremor, which struck early in the morning when streets were virtually empty, the streets, shops and offices in the city of almost 400,000 were thronged with people when the shallow tremor struck.
The city is home to about 350,000 people and is considered a tourist centre and gateway to the South Island.
New Zealand sits on the Pacific ‘ring of fire’ – an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through the South Pacific.
It records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year – but only about 150 are felt by residents, and fewer than 10 a year do any damage.
The September 4 quake wrecked hundreds of buildings in the city, and caused an estimated four billion New Zealand dollars (three billion US dollars) in damage.
A strong aftershock in December caused further damage to buildings. The city was still rebuilding from those quakes when today’s hit.