Earthquake death toll rises to 75

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Emergency services search the rumble for survivors of the collapsed CTV building in Christchurch's business district (AP)

Officials in New Zealand have said the death toll from the earthquake in Christchurch has risen to 75.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said 300 people were listed as missing but cautioned that the number trapped in collapsed buildings was not known.

A magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck near the city around lunchtime local time on Tuesday, collapsing buildings and sending rubble tumbling onto cars and people. Officials fear that the death toll could rise further.

“There are bodies littering the streets, they are trapped in cars, crushed under rubble and where they are clearly deceased our focus … has turned to the living,” police Superintendent Russell Gibson said.

Asked how many may still be trapped, he said: “It could be another hundred – it could be more.” Supt Gibson said 39 bodies had been identified at a temporary morgue at the central police station.

Prime minister John Key said at least 75 people had been killed, and Supt Gibson said the final figure “will be considerably higher than that”.

Rescuers are concentrating on at least a dozen buildings that collapsed or were badly damaged. Urban search and rescue co-ordinator Paul Burt said at least 32 trapped people had been rescued from collapsed buildings overnight, and several more bodies had also been recovered.

“People were covered in rubble, covered in several tons of concrete,” said web designer Nathaniel Boehm, who was outside on his lunch break when the quake struck. He saw the eaves of buildings cascade onto the street, burying people below. “It was horrific,” he said.

Shopping centre worker Tom Brittenden told of how he had helped pull victims from the rubble in the immediate aftermath of the quake. “There was a lady outside we tried to free with a child,” Mr Brittenden told National Radio. “A big bit of concrete or brick had fallen on her and she was holding her child. She was gone. The baby was taken away.”

Thousands of people in the city moved into temporary shelters at schools and community halls. “It is just a scene of utter devastation,” said Mr Key, the prime minister, after rushing to the city within hours of the quake. “We may well be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day.”

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