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New Zealand Quake Destroys City, Kills 65; Damages Could Exceed $1 Billion

Posted on 22 Feb 2011

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One of New Zealand's largest cities lay in ruins Tuesday night after a powerful earthquake killed at least 65 people, toppled buildings and left scores trapped beneath chunks of concrete.

"This is just heartbreaking," New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said during a trip to survey the damage. "This may be New Zealand's darkest day."

The 6.3-magnitude quake struck Christchurch during the lunchtime rush. Frantic rescuers scrambled to reach those trapped beneath the rubble hours after the earthquake struck. Dazed, bleeding residents wandered through streets strewn with debris and piles of concrete.

Damage from the earthquake is expected to exceed $1 billion, according to catastrophe modeling firm EQECAT Inc. Areas of Christchurch were still being rebuilt as a result of magnitude 7 earthquake that struck in September. Last year's quake was estimated to have caused up to $3 billion in insured losses, and several insurers and reinsurers have increased their estimates of claims from the event.

Prime Minister Key said the priority was to rescue those trapped. The number of injuries was unclear, and the final death toll may be much higher, according toauthorities.

Police, military and rescue crews have been dispatched from all over the country to help with rescue efforts, Key said.

The quake ripped the facade of the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. At the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, piles of stone sat atop crushed chairs on the floor as a light shone through a collapsed tower above the sanctuary.