65 killed in New Zealand earthquake

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People look at a damaged church after a powerful earthquake struck Christchurch killing at least 65 people (AP)

A powerful earthquake has struck the New Zealand city of Christchurch killing at least 65 people, the country’s prime minster said.

The quake collapsing buildings, buried vehicles under debris and sent rescuers scrambling to help trapped people.

The 6.3-magnitude quake hit the country’s second-biggest city on a busy weekday afternoon and closer to the town centre than a major quake that damaged Christchurch last September but caused no deaths when it struck before dawn on a weekend.

The quake destroyed the spire of the stone Christchurch Cathedral, which toppled into a central city square, and police said there was a report of two buses crushed under falling buildings.

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.

Pavements 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 deployed to help people get out and to throw up a security cordon around the stricken area, said deputy prime minister Bill English. “Make no mistake – this is going to be a very black day for this shaken city,” Mr Parker said when asked about possible deaths.

The airport was closed, and Christchurch Hospital was briefly evacuated before it was deemed safe and patients were returned. Power and telephone lines were knocked out, and pipes burst, flooding the streets with water. Some cars parked on the street were buried under rubble.

Some people were stuck in office towers and firefighters climbed extension ladders to pluck people trapped on roofs to safety.

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