Thursday, February 24, 2011

ABC Radio Australia Asia Pacific News Update- Christchurch Earthquake

Collapse fears complicate Christchurch rescue

Rescue crews have been pulled out of parts of central Christchurch amid fears that one of the city's tallest buildings may be about to collapse in the wake of yesterday's terrifying earthquake.

Police and firefighters cleared a two-block exclusion zone around the Grand Chancellor Hotel in the city centre, forcing a halt to rescue work on some of the buildings worst hit in Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake.

Among the buildings where the search for survivors was suspended was the CTV building, where up to 50 people were believed to be trapped.

The building was smashed to pieces in yesterday's devastating 6.3-magnitude earthquake that claimed the lives of at least 75 people, including an Australian resident, with 300 people still missing.

Earlier today there were incorrect reports that 15 people had been rescued from the CTV building.

The national commander of the fire and rescue service, Mike Hall, says it is possible people are trapped in the building, but there has been no sign of life for eight hours.

Rescue crews are now concentrating their efforts on the Pyne Gould Guinness building and it is believed they are in contact with up to four people trapped inside.

A short time ago, a woman who was trapped in the building was pulled to safety. Her husband was there to greet her and says he is amazed she is alive.

Rescue teams spent last night sifting through the rubble in the desperate search for survivors and that task has intensified today with specialist teams from Australia now at the disaster zone and others from around the globe flying in.

Police say rescuers have had to amputate limbs to free survivors from collapsed buildings.

Aftershocks continue to fray the nerves of residents sheltering in welfare centres.

The city's water system and electricity grid are still nowhere close to functioning properly and it may continue that way for months.

New Zealand's prime minister, John Key, says time is of the essence and has declared a national emergency.

"In practice this enables the strongest possible focus of local, national and international resources working together to achieve the best possible response in the shortest timeframe," he said.

Mr Key says the national declaration gives civil defence authorities greater powers in the disaster zone.

"On behalf of New Zealand, we feel your pain as only a small nation can," Mr Key said at a press conference this morning.

"This devastating event marks the start of a long journey for your city. It will be a difficult journey but progress is certain ... Christchurch will rise again."

Australian help
Meanwhile, Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard says 300 Australian police will be sent to New Zealand in the wake of the deadly Christchurch earthquake.

She also announced Australia will donate $US5 million to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal and that more help is on the way, including a 75-bed field hospital with six surgical, medical and support staff.

A 25-strong specialist medical team is also on its way to the stricken city.

Ms Gillard says the extra Australian police being deployed are expected to be there for around a fortnight.

"I can now confirm there are plans to send Australian police to New Zealand, including 50 Australian Federal Police officers," she said.

"Likely numbers in total are around 300, that is including the AFP officers."

Ms Gillard says the police will be there to relieve their New Zealand colleagues and will not be assisting in the rescue efforts.

"Those police officers will go to assist with community policing. They are not going for search and rescue purposes. The search and rescue is being undertaken by the specialist teams we have provided," she said.

"They will be there to provide assistance, backstopping relief to New Zealand police who obviously are very, very stretched at this particular time."

She said she had told New Zealand prime minister John Key "we will be there supporting New Zealand at every stage".

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