Office workers trapped under their collapsed buildings sent messages to the
outside as rescuers with dogs scrambled to save them and dozens of others
following a powerful earthquake on Tuesday that killed at least 65 in
Christchurch, one of New Zealand’s largest cities.
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“It is just a scene of
utter devastation,” Prime Minister John Key said, after rushing to the city
within hours of the quake. He said the death toll was 65 and may
“We may well be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day,” he said.
“It’s an absolute tragedy for this city, for New Zealand, for the people we care
so much about, and it’s a terrifying time for the people of [the] Canterbury
Quite frankly it’s hard to know what to say.”
backpacker was reportedly killed, and two others were hurt in the quake.
According to media reports, friends of the man informed his parents that he was
killed when a boulder smashed into a car he was traveling in.
Ministry did not release his name, but television reports on Tuesday night
identified him as Ofer Mizrahi, 23, from Kibbutz Magal.
Avigdor Lieberman spoke by phone with his New Zealand counterpart, Murray McCully,
expressing his condolences.
Lieberman thanked McCully for helping the
Israeli Embassy in locating Israelis in the Christchurch area and offered to
send Israeli search and rescue experts to help in finding survivors trapped
beneath the rubble.
At least 100 people were reportedly missing and
Search teams assisted by floodlights and earth movers
worked through dawn Wednesday, trying to dig through crumbled concrete, twisted
metal and huge mounds of brick.
Medical workers brought the injured to a
triage center set up in a park in central Christchurch, while military units
patrolled nearempty streets disfigured by the huge cracks and canyons created in
Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude quake, the second powerful temblor to hit Christchurch
in five months.
Among the destroyed buildings was the Chabad House, a
magnet for the scores of post-army Israeli youth who go trekking in New Zealand.
About 9,000 Israelis, the vast majority of them backpackers, visit the country
Rabbi Shmuel Freedman, a Chabad emissary living in the city
located on New Zealand’s South Island, said the Chabad House was reduced to
rubble, but that everyone managed to get out.
“We all ran out as it was
falling down, but thank God everybody is okay,” he was quoted as saying by
Chabad.org. “We are getting everybody together now at the square to see if
anybody is missing, and we are working very hard to help everybody.”
of New Zealand’s 7,000 Jews live on the North Island in Auckland and Wellington,
which were unaffected by the earthquake.
There is a Jewish community
numbering around 200 people in Christchurch.
The Foreign Ministry issued
a travel warning after the earthquake, advising Israelis to refrain from going
to Christchurch or its surrounding areas. It also called on Israelis in the area
By Tuesday evening, officials from the embassy in Wellington
were not yet in Christchurch, whose airport was closed to all but emergency
traffic, but they were en route to help the estimated 100 Israelis in the city
at the time of the quake. Concerned relatives called the Foreign Ministry’s
situation room throughout the day, seeking any possible information.
quake toppled the spire of the city’s historic stone cathedral, flattened tall
buildings and sent chunks of concrete and bricks hurtling onto cars, buses and
Web designer Nathaniel Boehm was outside on his lunch
break when the quake struck just before 1 p.m. He saw the eaves of buildings
cascade onto the street, burying people below.
Others tried to claw their
way in, but he didn’t see anyone come out.
“People were covered in
rubble, covered in several tons of concrete,” Boehm said. “It was
Thousands of people moved into temporary shelters at schools
and community halls. Others, including tourists who had abandoned their hotels,
huddled in hastily pitched tents and under plastic sheeting as drizzling rain
fell, while the Red Cross tried to find them accommodation.
Mayor Bob Parker said it was impossible to say how many were still trapped in
the rubble but it was estimated to be more than 100. He added that 200 workers
skilled in rescues would search through the night.
Some who were trapped
were able to call out using their mobile phones, reaching family, officials and
“I rang my kids to say goodbye,” said Ann Voss, interviewed by TV3
from underneath her desk where she was trapped in a collapsed office
“It was absolutely horrible. My daughter was crying and I was
crying, because I honestly thought that was it. You know, you want to tell them
you love them, don’t you?” She said she could hear other people still alive in
the building and had called out to them and communicated by knocking on
“I’m not going to give up,” she said. “I’m going to stay awake
now. They better come and get me.”
In the immediate aftermath, dazed,
screaming and crying residents wandered the streets as sirens and car alarms
With ambulance services overwhelmed, some victims were carried to
private vehicles in makeshift stretchers fashioned from rugs or bits of
A search-and-rescue team was being flown in from Australia, and
the United States also dispatched a team to help.
A more powerful 7.1
magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, a city of 350,000, on September 4, but
caused no deaths. The latest one may have been deadlier because it was closer to
where people live and work, centered 5 kilometers from the city, according to
the US Geological Survey. It also may not have been as deep
“The critical issue with this earthquake was that the
epicenter was at shallow depth under Christchurch, so many people were within 10
to 20 kilometers of the fault rupture,” said Gary Gibson, a seismologist at
Australia’s Melbourne University.
The US Geological Survey said the quake
was an aftershock from September’s temblor. A strong aftershock in December
caused further damage to buildings.
The city was still rebuilding from
those quakes when Tuesday’s hit.
Known in New Zealand as the Garden City,
Christchurch exudes the heritage of its 19thcentury English founders. A shallow
river, the Avon, winds through the downtown that is traversed by historic tram
lines and dotted with Gothic architecture, parks and sidewalk cafes. It is a
popular destination for foreign tourists and students.
Pyne Gould Guinness Building, housing more than 200 workers, collapsed and an
unknown number of people were trapped inside. Rescuers, many of them office
workers, dragged severely injured people from the rubble. Many had blood
streaming down their faces. Screams could be heard from those still
The earthquake knocked out power and telephone lines and burst
pipes, flooding the streets with water. Firefighters climbed extension ladders
to pluck people trapped on roofs of office towers to safety. Plumes of gray
smoke drifted into the air from fires burning in the rubble, and helicopters
used giant buckets to drench them with water.
The Christchurch airport,
initially closed, was reopened on Tuesday to emergency flights, and airport
officials said domestic flights would resume on Wednesday.
worst earthquake struck in 1931 at Hawke’s Bay on the country’s North Island,
and killed at least 256 people.
Jeff Peters, who runs a luxury motel in
Christchurch near the cathedral, said the earthquake sent microwave ovens,
plates and cups in his guest rooms flying.
“Sure we’ve come back from the
last one, but what do we do now?” he asked. “Because so much of the city has