23 Feb 2011

Christchurch wakes to nightmare destruction following Tuesday's earthquake

9:31 am on 23 February 2011

Christchurch has woken on Wednesday from what a local business leader calls the nightmare that didn't happen in September.

Tuesday afternoon's 6.3 earthquake has shattered the city, leaving an official death toll of 39 that is certain to climb as more bodies are found beneath the rubble of destroyed and damaged buildings.

Prime Minister John Key says Cabinet will consider on Wednesday morning whether to declare the quake a national state of emergency.

Hundreds of search and rescue personnel, fire service staff, army personnel and volunteers worked under floodlights through the night to get to those who are still trapped - some of whom have been texting for help.

The chief executive of the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce, Peter Townsend, says this is the nightmare that didn't happen in September, when the 7.1 quake caused extensive damage but didn't kill anyone.

Superintendent Dave Cliff says the scene is grim, with 100 people still thought to be trapped. But more than 100 have been pulled out alive.

Mr Key said on Tuesday evening that the death toll was 65, but Superintendent Dave Cliff of the Christchurch police told Radio New Zealand at 9.20am on Wednesday that the confirmed toll at this stage is 39.

That figure is based on definite identification of the deceased.

Separately, Superintendent Russell Gibson has said 38 bodies are in the mortuary and dozens more litter the streets, trapped in cars and under rubble.

There is no official list of who is missing yet, so Civil Defence does not have a figure for the number of people trapped.

Hundreds of displaced people spent the night in specially set up welfare centres at Hagley Park North, Addington Raceway and Burnside High School, and Civil Defence aims to open more centres throughout Wednesday.

It is urging people who can stay home to do so, and only travel when essential. The duty Civil Defence controller in Christchurch, Peter Mitchell, says people should stay at home until the weekend.

There's still no water supply to 80% of the city, though power is back on for about half of Christchurch.

Mr Hamilton says the city's main arterial roads are operational.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says the central city will be shut down on Wednesday and will stay that way for a significant amount of time.

Mr Parker says a cordon manned by military personnel is in place around the four avenues surrounding the central area.

The Ministry of Education says all schools in Christchurch are closed until further notice. Officials are also recommending that schools and early childhood services in Waimakariri and Selwyn districts close on Wednesday.