Natural disasters, Tragedies

New Zealand’s Darkest Day

February 23, 2011
The collapsed CTV building

Ann Bodkin, a woman who took cover under her desk when the 6.3-magnitude quake struck Christchurch on Tuesday, was rescued from earthquake ruins Wednesday, raising hope as rescuers frantically searched for survivors. Bodkin had been trapped in her office building for 24 hours.

Applause broke out from the rescue workers as Bodkin was pulled alive from the rubble of the Pyne Gould Corp. building in the central business district. She was one of around 30 people rescued Wednesday from buildings on the two blocks most severely damaged in the quake. It is estimated that at least 22 people were still trapped in Pyne Gould building.

Rescue workers search for victims on the collapsed Pyne Gould Guinness building.

A woman is pulled from the rubble

“The sun came out the moment she was removed from the building,” said Mayor Bob Parker of Christchurch. “It was like God turned on the lights.”

Ann Voss, who spoke to the media from her mobile phone beneath the rubble, has also been rescued.

“A couple of hours ago, I thought I’d had it,” Voss told New Zealand network TV3 Tuesday. “I thought it was ‘goodbye Ann’.”

“I’ve managed to wiggle out a bit because I couldn’t breathe. Now I’ve got a wee bit of air here. I rang my kids to say goodbye.”

My daughter was crying and I was crying because I thought ‘this is it’. You’ve got to tell them you love them.”

She said she was unaware of what was happening and that she was waiting to be rescued.

“I’m not going to give up — I’ve got here now you get me out,” she said.

Rescue workers have abandoned hope of finding anyone alive in the collapsed Canterbury Television (CTV) building in the city centre, saying the damage to the structure was “not survivable.” It is believed that up to 100 people, including foreign students at a third-floor language school and TV station staff , were inside the building when the quake hit.

The collapsed CTV building

Prime Minister John Key said that hundreds are still missing, including 10 Japanese students and teachers believed to be trapped at a local college. The Japanese group, which was visiting the city, was having lunch when the earthquake struck.

Buildings toppled onto buses and buckled streets and the facades of iconic churches were ripped, including the Christchurch Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

A damaged cathedral after an earthquake in central Christchurch.

Seventy-five people have been confirmed dead, but that toll was expected to rise with more than 300 people missing in the country’s second-biggest city, including about 100 in the CTV building, police said.

Much of the city remained without power and water, and hundreds of people queued for water supplies brought in.

A national state of emergency has been declared. It is the country’s worst natural disaster since a 1931 quake in the North Island city of Napier which killed 256 and it is estimated that the damage could cost $12 billion.

Power was cut off for most of the city, resulting in rescuers working overnight under floodlights. Rescue teams had to perform amputations to free some of the 120 survivors pulled from the wreckage of the tremor, which was the second strong quake to hit the historic tourist city in five months.

“This is just heartbreaking,” Key said. “This may be New Zealand’s darkest day.”

Rescue workers search for survivors in a collapsed building

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