Monday, February 21, 2011

Deadly quake rocks New Zealand, topples buildings

Deadly quake rocks New Zealand, topples buildings

By Gyles Beckford | Reuters – 57 minutes agoWELLINGTON (Reuters) - A strong quake killed and trapped people beneath rubble and sparked fires and toppled buildings in New Zealand's second-biggest city of Christchurch on Tuesday.

It was the second quake to hit the city in five months.

Local TV showed bodies being pulled out of rubble strewn around the city centre, though it was unclear whether any of them were alive. But police reported multiple fatalities after the 6.3 magnitude quake struck during the busy lunchtime.

"I was in the square right outside the cathedral -- the whole front has fallen down and there were people running from there. There were people inside as well," said John Gurr, a camera technician who was in the city centre when the quake hit.

Authorities ordered major hospitals up and down the country to make room for quake victims but there was no word on how many might have been killed or were trapped beneath collapsed buildings. There were reports of a shortage of ambulances.

Christchurch's mayor described the city of almost 400,000 people as a war zone. Emergency crews picked through the rubble, including a multi-storey office building whose floors appeared to have pancaked on top of each other.

"A lady grabbed hold of me to stop falling over...We just got blown apart. Colombo Street, the main street, is just a mess...There's lots of water everywhere, pouring out of the ground," Gurr said.


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 river running right beneath the surface. One witness described the footpaths as like "walking on sand".

Unlike last year's even stronger tremor, which struck early in the morning when streets were virtually empty, the streets, shops and offices were thronged with people when the shallow tremor hit.

It hit at 12:51 pm (2351 GMT Monday) at a depth of only 4 km (2.5 miles), according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Web site.

"It's huge, it's just huge," a priest told a TV reporter outside the remains of the city's stone cathedral, part of which had been reduced to a pile of large sandstone blocks.

"I just don't know whether there are people under this rubble," he said, before he appeared to add in a quiet voice: "I think so."

Prime Minister John Key, who called an emergency cabinet meeting for later in the day, told parliament he could not rule out casualties: "We are aware of significant damage to buildings that had people in them at the time."

The quake helped knock the New Zealand dollar down to $0.7541 , 1.2 percent off late U.S. levels, on fears the damage could dent confidence

Friday, February 11, 2011

Powerful quake rocks Chile year after disaster

Posted: 12 February 2011 0512 hrs

SANTIAGO - A powerful earthquake struck Friday off the coast of Chile, throwing a scare into residents nearly a year after a massive temblor and tsunami wreaked death and destruction in the same region.

There was no initial reports of casualties or damage, but media reports said the quake was felt in a wide area of central Chile, where some residents evacuated coastal areas as a precaution.

The US Geological Survey and Chile's National Emergency Office (ONEMI) said the quake occurred in the Pacific some 70 kilometres (45 kilometres) from the city of Concepcion.

The USGS initially reported a major 7.0 magnitude, and later revised that to 6.8, which can still cause devastation.

The quake struck at 2005 GMT near a region in central Chile that was heavily damaged by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on February 27, 2010.

Rodrigo Ubilla, an Interior ministry official, said there were no casualties or damage to buildings reported and praised the "exemplary" reaction of the population, saying the people showed "maturity" after last year's

Last year's disaster led to more than 500 deaths and $30 billion dollars in damage, and led to an inquiry over the lack of a timely tsunami warning.

ONEMI director Vicente Nunez said "people reacted with concern," because the incident occurred near the anniversary date of the tsunami, and urged people to return to their homes.

President Sebastian Pinera visited the ONEMI headquarters late in the day to review the situation. Earlier this week, he said reconstruction from the devastation last year would extend until 2014, with many schools, roads and hospitals still needing repairs.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said that "a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami is not expected," from this quake but that earthquakes of this size "sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts" within a 100 kilometers of the epicentre.

"Authorities in the region of the epicenter should be aware of this possibility and take appropriate action," it said.

A spokesman for Chile's emergency office said of the latest quake, at a depth of 14.8 kilometres, "does not have the characteristics to create a tsunami."

Chilean seismologists said it was not usual to see aftershocks from a quake as large as the one last year, even a year later.

The USGS said the location of the earthquake was 395 kilometres (245 miles) southwest of Santiago.

- AFP /ls