By Phil Mercer
At least 65 deaths are being reported after a powerful earthquake struck the New Zealand city, Christchurch. Buildings have collapsed, prompting fears that residents and office workers could be trapped in the rubble.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck near Christchurch at lunchtime Tuesday, when one of New Zealand’s key cities was at its busiest.
The police think that many lives have been lost, including passengers aboard two buses crushed by falling debris.
Television reports show wounded people being helped by rescuers along damaged streets. Emergency workers and volunteers carried others from buildings, on makeshift stretchers, as panic spread.
One survivor said, “I have never been in an earthquake. It just came and we could not get out. It had all collapsed and all the doors were shut. We had to smash the window out.”
Another said, “It is surreal. It is like a dream you are going to wake up any minute.”
Christchurch was hit by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake last September and a series of aftershocks has rattled the city ever since.
Many older buildings in the city center collapsed, and iconic Christchurch cathedral was heavily damaged. Power and telephone lines are cut in some places. Some roads caved in and at least one bridge has been damaged.
Thousands of people have fled buildings and gathered in the streets as a series of aftershocks hit, reverberating through the surrounding Canterbury district and beyond.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told New Zealand’s parliament that those affected would get the help they need. The prime minister said, “What we do know is the people of Canterbury are once again going through a traumatic and frightening experience. My thoughts, and I am sure the thoughts of this House, are with the people of Canterbury. The government stands alongside you now for however long it takes to repair and rebuild your region.”
New Zealand experiences more than 14,000 earthquakes each year. It lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the world’s most seismically active regions, stretching from North America to the South Pacific, and then north again, to Japan.