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Saturday, March 5, 2011

An Early Report (22 Feb)

Buildings down after massive Christchurch quake

NZPA February 22, 2011, 2:00 pm
Christchurch has been rocked by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, with unconfirmed reports of fatalities.

The Christchurch police central police station has been evacuated, the airport has been closed and there are reports of collapses of many buildings, including a church in the central city.

Civil Defence Minister John Carter said there had been rumours of fatalities, but these had not been confirmed.

Cellphone and landlines were down and Civil Defence was using HP and satellite phones to try to communicate.

Mr Carter said he was unable to confirm if there had been any deaths but said given the shallow epicentre and the magnitude of the quake it could be worse than September's 7.1 quake.

"We understand it is a lot shallower than the last one, it's closer than the last one and the effects may be worse."

The scheduled sitting of Parliament today is being cancelled, after Prime Minister John Key makes a statement.

TVNZ reported that a body had been pulled from a car that had been hit by rubble.

The spire on the Christ Church Cathedral has tumbled in the quake.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said an emergency operation was being set up. In the central city the earthquake felt as violent as the 7.1 earthquake on September 4.

"This is obviously a dreadful, dreadful aftershock, it felt more like a new quake to me," he told Radio NZ.

"What I can see from where I'm from..there's a significant amount of additional damage."

He said pipes were burst on the street.

"The waste water pipe has broken."

There were unconfirmed reports of serious injuries, he said.

"Emergency services now have the incredibly difficult task of moving through a city which is evacuating itself from the central city area."

He warned people not to block the streets.

"Our roads are now our lifeline, we need to get people out of the city."

"[We] need to make sure our people are as safe as possible."

Labour leader Phil Goff was among those evacuated from Christchurch Airport. He said he was surrounded by scared and upset people.

David Alexander told NZPA the quake had ruined his 1906 villa in Opawa, about 4km from the central city.

"It's done a lot of damage, it was really violent and quick. We've got glass everywhere. Our house has just been trashed."

His piano was tilted at a 45 degree angle, and had smashed a hole in a wall, the Christchurch photographer said.

The quake had been like thunder, with a big violent bang.

He was certain the three chimneys the house once had would have come down, had they not been removed after the September quake.

He could hear sirens in the streets as emergency services activated, while in his house wardrobes were over, cupboards open, and porcelain and smashed china was everywhere.

"That was frightening. We've got huge cracks in the roof we didn't have two weeks ago, when the inspectors came (to check damage cause by the September quake).

Lincoln University lecturer Farhad Dastgheib was in a seminar with about 40 people when the quake hit.

"It went for about 30 seconds and people were very scared. We had two big ones and everyone was shocked and jumping under the tables but we were in a seven storey building so I don't know if that would have helped."

"This was during the day time and so we were there from the beginning. It felt like giant waves."

Mr Dastgheib's 19-year-old daughter Negin was at university when it happened. She said she completely lost her balance and saw a five-storey building swaying in front of her.

"We were all running around, some people were crying and some laughing hysterically. We are staying outside even though it's raining, we are too scared to go inside."

Radio New Zealand reported the town centre was packed with people, hugging and crying, while the concrete had lifted in places with trees uprooted and the Avon River has turned brown to liquefaction.

GNS Science said the 6.3 magnitude quake struck at 12.51pm, 20km southeast of Christchurch, at a depth of 5km.

It was felt from Kapiti Island in the North Island to Gore in the South Island.

Items were knocked off shelves in Timaru.

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management said the national crisis management centre had been activated.

The quake was very shallow and information was still being gathered, a spokesman said.

Telecom said it was investigating reports all Christchurch phone lines were down.

The TVNZ building in Christchurch had collapsed, a source, who described the quake as "massive", told NZPA.

The kiwi dollar fell 0.5c on the news of the earthquake.

A massive 7.1 tremor hit Canterbury on September 4 last year, causing extensive damage and a handful of injuries, but no deaths.

Thousands of aftershocks have since rattled the region.

The September quake caused billions of dollars of damage, with more than 168,000 claims to the Earthquake Commission.

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