Earthquake Rocks New Zealand

The island nation responds to a deadly, devastating quake

Feb 22, 2010 | By Andrea Delbanco

 

Rescue teams are working round-the-clock looking for survivors of a powerful earthquake that ripped through Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest city, at lunchtime on Tuesday.

New Zealand is made up of two main islands that lie in the South Pacific Ocean. Christchurch, on the country's South Island, is home to around 350,000 people. The earthquake destroyed the spire of the city's historic stone cathedral and brought down many tall buildings. It even knocked a large chunk of ice off of New Zealand's biggest glacier, around 120 miles east of Christchurch.

So far, the death toll has reached 65 people. Many people were injured and at least 100 people are still missing. "It's just a scene of utter devastation," said New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key, who arrived in Christchurch within hours of the quake. "We may well be witnessing New Zealand's darkest day."

A String of Shake-Ups

A stronger but less damaging quake hit the area in September, with a powerful aftershock rocking the nation in December. Christchurch is still struggling to rebuild from those quakes, which caused no deaths. Yesterday's magnitude 6.3 quake is believed to be yet another aftershock. It was much more damaging because it struck closer to where people work and live within Christchurch.

"The critical issue with this earthquake was that the epicenter was at a shallow depth under Christchurch, so many people were within (6 to 12 miles) of the fault rupture," says Gary Gibson, a scientist who studies earthquakes at Melbourne University in Australia.

Helping Hands

Both Australia and the United States sent search-and-rescue teams to Christchurch. Medical teams set up in the center of the city, and thousands of people moved to temporary shelters in tents, schools and other public spaces while rescue teams worked tirelessly in the rain.

"The government is willing to throw everything it can in the rescue effort," said New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English. "Time is going to be of essence."