The devastating Christchurch earthquake was caused by a new fault line in the Earth’s crust that seismologists were previously unaware of. The discovery comes as the death toll rise to 75 with more than 300 people still missing. A national state of emergency has been declared by Prime Minister John Key, who described the situation as “New Zealand’s darkest day”.
Forty-eight people were pulled out of buildings alive in a scene that police describe as ‘carnage throughout the city’
Eye-witnesses described scenes of chaos in the aftermath of the quake, which struck at the relatively shallow depth of 3.1 miles below the surface at lunchtime when the city was at its busiest.
Fears are growing for ten Britons who are thought to have died in the quake.
Nearly 400,000 people live in the country’s second city, with the epicentre of the quake recorded some ten kilometres to the south-east.
Christchurch Cathedral, an iconic stone building in the centre of the city, was partially destroyed. Footage from local television showed its spire toppling into the square below. 22 people are now thought to be missing below.
The Hotel Grand Chancellor, the city’s second tallest building has been sectioned off as rescuers fear it will collapse after it was displaced by 0.5m (1.6ft) and has dropped by 1m (3.3ft) on one side.
The Pyne Gould Guinness building was also destroyed, with as many as 30 people believed to be trapped inside.
Power was cut to thousands of residents, mobile phone networks were disrupted and road and rail transport was badly hit after the violent tremor.
All schools in Christchurch have been closed until further notice
Christchurch is a popular tourist destination on the southern island of New Zealand.
Its close proximity to the Southern Alps ski-fields and international airport make the city a stopover destination for many visitors to the country.
The British Foreign Office issued a statement to citizens in the city: “Residents in Christchurch are being asked to stay off the roads to allow emergency services to get through.
Christchurch Airport has, however, re-opened.
The Ferrymead Bridge is still impassable because of rising water, while Christchurch hospital is in operation.
A Crisis Response Centre has been established at Christchurch Art Gallery.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II said she was “utterly shocked” by the disaster, while US President Barack Obama has offered his “deepest condolences”.
Pacific Ring of Fire
The quake is the most deadly to hit New Zealand since a 7.8-magnitude tremor killed 256 people in the Hawke’s Bay region in 1931.
New Zealand was also struck last year, with a 7.0 magnitude quake reduced 100,000 homes in the Christchurch area to rouble on September 4th last year.
New Zealand sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a vast zone of seismic and volcanic activity stretching from Chile on one side to Japan and Indonesia on the other.