Dozens die in quake horror
65 killed, toll set to rise 200 trapped under rubble Christchurch 'on its knees'
A powerful earthquake slammed New Zealand's already-bruised city of Christchurch today, killing at least 65 people, and sending rescuers scrambling to help people trapped under collapsed buildings.
"We may well be witnessing New Zealand's darkest day... The death toll I have at the moment is 65 and that may rise," New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said. "It's just a scene of utter devastation."
"It's hard to describe. What was a vibrant city a few hours ago has been brought to its knees," he added.
The mayor of Christchurch said as many as 200 people could still be trapped inside buildings wrecked by the quake.
The 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the country's second-largest city around lunchtime, collapsing buildings and sending bricks and other heavy debris toppling into busy city streets.
It was the second major quake to strike Christchurch in the past five months.
Video footage showed some multi-storey buildings collapsed in on themselves, and others with walls that had collapsed into the streets, strewn with bricks and shattered concrete.
Sidewalks and roads were cracked and split, and thousands of dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered through the streets as sirens blared.
Groups of people helped victims clutching bleeding wounds, and others were carried to private vehicles in makeshift stretchers fashioned from rugs or bits of debris.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city centre.
Troops were also deployed to help people get out.
The 6.3 magnitude quake struck when the streets and shops were thronged with people and the offices were still occupied. Christchurch's mayor described the city of almost 400,000 people as a war zone.
"There will be deaths, there will be a lot of injuries, there will be a lot of heartbreak in this city," he said.
Helicopters dumped giant buckets of water to try to douse a fire in one tall office building. A crane helped rescue workers trapped in another office block.
Emergency crews picked through the rubble, including a multi-storey office building whose floors appeared to have pancaked on top of each other.
Christchurch is built on silt, sand and gravel, with a water table beneath. In an earthquake, the water rises, mixing with the sand and turning the ground into a swamp and swallowing up sections of road and entire cars.
TV footage showed sections of road that had collapsed into a milky, sand-coloured lake right beneath the surface. One witness described the footpaths as like "walking on sand".
The quake hit at 12:51 pm at a depth of only 4 km, according to the US Geological Survey.
New Zealand, which sits between the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates, records on average more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which about 20 would normally top magnitude 5.0.
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