Rescuers swarmed over twisted buildings yesterday 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 Tuesday’s shallow, magnitude 6.3 tremor, to hunt for anyone still alive along with an unknown number of bodies buried in the rubble.
New Zealand 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.
Key said the quake had “wreaked death and destruction on a dreadful scale” in the country’s second biggest city, six months after a magnitude 7.0 quake shook buildings violently in Christchurch, but miraculously caused no deaths.
The latest tremor toppled buildings and left central Christchurch strewn with debris as dozens of aftershocks rocked the city.
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 at the college 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,” police operations commander Dave Lawry said. “The situation is that we don’t believe this site is now survivable.”
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 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.”
There was applause when a woman emerged from the Pyne Gould Corporation building, some 24 hours after the quake rocked busy lunchtime streets.
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.
The clock is ticking for those still 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.
Specialist teams from Australia, Britain, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the US were due to join the rescue operation as an international effort swung into action.
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