New Zealand rescuers pulled survivors out of rubble on Wednesday 24 hours after a devastating earthquake in Christchurch as the death toll climbed to 75, with many dozens still trapped inside collapsed buildings.
Rescue teams had to perform amputations to free some of the 120 survivors so far pulled from the wreckage of Tuesday's strong tremor which hit the country's second-biggest city. Up to 300 people are still missing, Mayor Bob Parker said, and Prime Minister John Key said the death toll will rise.
"We are getting texts (sms messages) and tapping sounds from the living and that's our focus at the moment," police shift commander Russell Gibson said on Radio New Zealand.
Tuesday's 6.3 magnitude quake was the second to hit the historic tourist city in five months. It was New Zealand's most deadly natural disaster for 80 years, and the damage could cost $12 billion.
Early in the afternoon a woman, Ann Bodkin, was rescued from a finance company's destroyed building, having spent a day trapped under a desk. Amid cheers, Bodkin, wrapped in blankets, was put into an ambulance suffering from only cuts and scratches.
"Getting her out is just stupendous. I'm a very happy man," her husband told the New Zealand Herald newspaper.
Hopes all but disappeared of finding survivors in another collapsed building, home to a TV broadcaster and an English language school.
An early report that a group of 15 people had been found there was denied, and among those still unaccounted for at the smoldering ruin site were 10 Japanese students at the school.
Dave Lawrie, police operational commander, said the search at the collapsed Canterbury Television building had been called off to focus on buildings more likely to still have survivors.
Previously, mayor Parker said up to around 100 people could be trapped.
Authorities have identified 55 dead bodies and there are another 20 still to be identified. The toll seems certain to rise further as the frantic search effort focuses on survivors ahead of retrieving and identifying corpses.
Another police official said a temporary mortuary was being set up at an army base near the city to hold bodies.
Massive economic impact
Indications of the massive economic impact of the quake are starting to emerge. J.P. Morgan estimated insured losses from the disaster could be $12 billion, according to a source who had seen the research note.
When asked about possible costs, Prime minister Key told reporters: "No one's in a position to actually assess that." He said he hoped Christchurch could still host rugby World Cup matches later this year as planned.
Key said the country could afford to rebuild Christchurch, but reinsurance risk would probably worsen.
In the city center, roads were buckled, buildings toppled and large pools of water welled up from broken pipes and sewers.
There were fears that one of the city's tallest buildings, the 26-storey Hotel Grand Chancellor, which has sagged in one corner, could collapse and bring down adjoining structures.
The building has been evacuated but rescue teams have been forced to pull back, disrupting nearby searches.
In places, roads had collapsed into a milky, sand-colored lake beneath the surface, the result of Christchurch's sandy foundations mixing with subterranean water under the force of the quake. Officials call it "liquefaction" of the ground.
State of emergency
A national state of emergency has been declared, and soldiers in armored personnel carriers patrolled Christchurch city. Police will impose a curfew from 6.30 p.m. local time (12:30 a.m. ET) in the badly hit CBD area.
It is the country's worst natural disaster since a 1931 quake in the North Island city of Napier which killed 256. Christchurch Hospital received an influx of injured residents, with broken limbs, crush injuries and lacerations.
"Some had to have their limbs amputated to get them out, and others have had amputation from the injury itself," said Mike Ardagh, head of Christchurch hospital's emergency department.
Thousands of people were facing a second night in emergency shelters in local schools, community halls and at a racecourse. Fresh water supplies were railed into the city and were being distributed from schools and portable toilets set up around the city as services were disrupted.
Rescue specialists from the United States, Britain, Taiwan and Japan were en route to New Zealand, with the first of 148 search and rescue specialists from neighboring Australia already on the streets.
The disaster fueled talk that central bank might cut interest rates in coming weeks to shore up confidence in the already-fragile national economy, but the bank did not mention monetary policy on Wednesday when it commented on the quake.
The local dollar briefly firmed against the U.S. dollar after the central bank omitted any reference to rates. It had sunk to an eight-week low on Monday on the talk of a cut.
The quake's timing was far worse than last year's tremor, which struck at night when streets were empty. Still, that first quake caused damage estimated at up to around $3.7 billion.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 23 Şubat 2011, 12:04