Simon Baker

Nearly 400 dead or missing in NZ

RESCUERS are working frantically to reach trapped survivors after a catastrophic earthquake left nearly 400 people dead or missing in Christchurch.

Prime Minister John Key, declaring a national emergency after New Zealand's worst natural disaster in 80 years, said the region around the country's second-largest city had suffered "death and destruction on a dreadful scale".

Rescuers had to amputate limbs from survivors to free them from smouldering ruins of buildings reduced to debris in minutes, while dazed survivors were plucked from the rubble in a desperate overnight rescue mission.

Christchurch resident Tom Brittenden said he saw a woman die with her baby in her arms when she was hit by falling debris in the city's Cashel St Mall. Her baby survived but she was killed instantly.

"We tried to pull these big bricks off (her)... she was gone," he told the Christchurch Press.

Rescuers had recovered 75 bodies since the 6.3-magnitude quake struck at lunchtime (1000 AEDT) on Tuesday, and about 300 people were still missing, officials said.

The quake was the deadliest to hit New Zealand since 256 people died in a 1931 tremor, and it came almost six months after a 7.0-magnitude quake weakened buildings in Christchurch but miraculously resulted in no deaths.

Christchurch quake: 75 dead

RESCUERS have recovered and identified 55 bodies and are yet to identify a further 20 bodies from yesterday's earthquake in Christchurch, police say.

Superintendent Dave Cliff said there were 55 bodies in a temporary morgue and 20 more were being taken there.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said 300 people were also listed as missing.

"With those 300 missing people could just be someone called up saying so and so is missing - they may have just left town."

Announcing a national state of emergency had been declared, Prime Minister John Key said the whole country was grieving.

Mr Key said the lives lost were the "greatest loss".

"Buildings are just buildings, roads are just roads, but lives are irreplaceable."

He said the whole of New Zealand was with Canterbury.

"Today all New Zealand grieves for you Christchurch," he said.

But he said the city would recover.

"Though lost lives will never be replaced, and though your city will never look the same again, you will rebuild your city, you will rebuild your lives, you will overcome."

Mr Key said he was "very nervous" about speculating about the eventual death toll but with 75 dead and hundreds missing it was likely to rise.

Bodies in the streets

Police nightshift commander Superintendent Russell Gibson this morning told Radio New Zealand there were scenes of "absolute carnage" in the centre of Christchurch.

Mr Gibson said the toll would rise.

"I know that the figure of 65 [dead] has been mentioned, I know that it will be significantly higher than that.

"There are bodies littering the streets they're trapped in cars, crushed under rubble, and where they are clearly deceased our focus unfortunately at this time has turned to the living," he said.

Hundreds of rescue workers had been working through the night systematically going door to door checking for survivors, Mr Gibson said.

He said bodies were "right through" the rubble but he believed about 30 people were pulled out alive overnight - mainly from the CTV and Pyne Gould buildings, where others are still believed to be trapped.

Rescuers were still receiving text messages and hearing trapped people tapping and there could easily still be more than 100 people trapped, Mr Gibson said.

A board member from the Crusaders was one of the people killed in the earthquake, chief executive Hamish Riach has revealed.

The Press reported that a woman with a baby in her arms died instantly when she was hit by falling debris in the earthquake. It was not known how badly hurt the baby was. Newstalk ZB said another baby was killed when a television fell on him.

St John Ambulance said two people were killed when hit by falling rocks while walking the Lyttelton's Crater Rim Track. They were believed to be the only victims from the Lyttelton area, which was severely damaged.

Defence Force

The Air Force has been helping to evacuate people from Christchurch.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft evacuated people from Christchurch to Wellington this morning, and a second will follow, the Defence Force said.

It said staff had been preparing for a large exercise in the region and were now instead helping with the rescue effort.

"Medical teams are working with local health officials and soldiers are manning cordons around the city. Army ambulances and personnel are assisting with various search and rescue tasks throughout the city," it said in a statement.

It said military staff from Singapore and Australia were also helping.

An Australian Defence Force C-130 aircraft has brought in the first group of Australian search and rescue staff.

"Soldiers from the Singapore Armed Forces are also providing personnel to man the cordons in the city."

Infrastructure

Civil Defence said welfare centres had been busy overnight as had hospitals and medical facilities.

About 950 people spent the night at two welfare centres, at Hagley Park and Burnside High School, where blankets, food, sanitation were supplied.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says more welfare centres would be opened once buildings are declare safe to use.

"The advice is to stay at home if people can and to check on their neighbours and if they need any help or advice, call the Government helpline," says Ms Bennett.

The 0800 779997 helpline will operate 24 hours, providing information, advice and transferring calls through to other appropriate agencies.

"Financial assistance will also be made available to those who need it, we have the ability to provide Civil Defence emergency payments and other assistance is available," Ms Bennett said.

Telecommunications were patchy and many residents did not have drinking water.

Roger Sutton, CEO of Orion Power, said half the city was still without power but he hoped that by the end of today that 70-80 percent of the city would be back online.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told Breakfast at least six schools would be used as water distribution centres. Water tankers would be sent to them today for people to collect water from. The schools were Lyttelton, Redcliffs, South New Brighton, Shirley, Wainoni and Phillipstown. Steps were also under way to get food supplies in.

Mayor Parker urged people to stay at home, saying the city was effectively "closed" for at least the next three days.

He said portable toilets were being brought into the city to help ease the impact of waste water.

People with minor injuries were advised to go to smaller medical centres around the city rather than Christchurch Hospital, he said.

Christchurch Airport reopened for domestic flights this morning and it is expected the backlog will be cleared by the end of the day.

Christchurch International Airport will reopen for international flights this afternoon, with the first arrival expected at 3.20pm.

Check-in counters will open at midday, but airport chief executive Jim Boult said people should not come out to the airport unless they have a confirmed booking on an international flight.

Aftershocks continued to hit Christchurch overnight, the largest a 4.8 magnitude tremor 10km south-west of the city at a depth of 7km at 9.21pm.

There have been at least 11 more quakes over magnitude 4, with the latest a magnitude 3.6 struck at 10.10am, 10km east of Christchurch, GNS Science reported.



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