Rescuers have had to amputate limbs to free survivors from collapsed buildings in earthquake-hit Christchurch, police said this morning, estimating 100 people remained trapped in the rubble.
Superintendent Russell Gibson said bodies still littered the streets of New Zealand’s second city after yesterday’s 6.3-magnitude quake, and the death toll of 65 was set to rise significantly.
“There is incredible carnage right throughout the city,” he told Radio New Zealand. “There are bodies littering the streets, they are trapped in cars and crushed under rubble.”
Superintendent Gibson said the number of trapped “could be another 100, it could easily be more than that”, adding the toll would rise from 65. “It will be significantly higher than that,” he said.
More than 500 rescuers, including police and military personnel, pulled between 20 and 30 people from the debris overnight, toiling through the darkness, he added.
“It’s quite amazing, we have some people we’ve pulled out and they haven’t got so much as a scratch on them, we’ve had other people where we’ve had to amputate limbs to get them out,” he said.
This morning DFAT said authorities held “grave fears” for one Australian man in the wake of the earthquake.
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Superintendent Gibson said emergency workers were going door to door through the city centre calling out to anyone who was trapped, with rescue efforts concentrating on two office buildings where survivors had managed to communicate with them.
“We are getting texts and tapping sounds from some of these buildings and that’s where the focus is at the moment,” he said.
Around 120 people have been found alive under collapsed buildings since the powerful 6.3-magnitude earthquake strike at lunchtime yesterday, and police say they are having to ignore dead bodies that they know are trapped in rubble.
Emergency workers say the degree of damage to city buildings is immense, made worse by at least 12 aftershocks, some of which measured up to 5.9 in magnitude.
Authorities say 38 bodies are currently in the mortuary and dozens more litter the streets, trapped in cars and under rubble.
Rescue teams from Australia arrived last night and more with specialist equipment are coming today. Police in Christchurch say they have requested 300 more officers from Australia to help in the quake-hit city.
About 1,000 people spent the night in evacuation centres, and many camped in Christchurch’s parks.
Scores of strong aftershocks have been felt and a state of emergency has been declared for at least the next five days.
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker has urged people to stay calm in the face of continuing power outages and water shortages.
“All of our efforts are still focused on finding our people and getting them out of those buildings,” he said.
“We’ve got people across the city who are trapped in buildings. I don’t think we are talking about thousands, but we are certainly talking about dozens of people who may not be able to be saved.
“[But] we are treating every one of these operations as an operation searching for people who we will save.
“We are using medivacs to take people to appropriate medical facilities outside of the city.
“By moving people out to areas where they can get the specialist support they need, we can keep our [hospital] building open here.
“I talked to the PM about the need for this city’s long-term recovery … it’s clear that as we move out of this rescue stage we’ve got a long grind [ahead].
“We’ve been taken back to a place that is actually worse than we were on the morning of September 4.”
The Federal Government is trying to confirm the safety of Australians in the region.
More than 1,500 Australians are registered as being in Christchurch and DFAT’s consular emergency centre has had almost 5,000 calls.