Nearly 400 dead, missing in New Zealand quake

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Christchurch, Feb 23 (AFP) New Zealand rescuers workedfrantically through the night today to reach trapped survivorsafter a catastrophic earthquake left nearly 400 people dead ormissing in Christchurch.

Prime Minister John Key, declaring a nationalemergency after New Zealand''s worst natural disaster in 80years, said the region around the country''s second-largestcity had suffered "death and destruction on a dreadful scale".

Rescuers had to amputate limbs from survivors to freethem from smouldering ruins of buildings reduced to debris inminutes, while dazed survivors were plucked from the rubble ina desperate overnight rescue mission.

Christchurch resident Tom Brittenden said he saw awoman die with her baby in her arms when she was hit byfalling debris in the city''s Cashel St Mall. Her baby survivedbut she was killed instantly.

"We tried to pull these big bricks off (her)... shewas gone," he told the Christchurch Press.

Rescuers had recovered 75 bodies since the6.3-magnitude quake struck at lunchtime Tuesday, and about 300people were still missing, officials said.

The quake was the deadliest to hit New Zealand since256 people died in a 1931 tremor, and it came six months aftera 7.0-magnitude quake weakened buildings in Christchurch butmiraculously resulted in no deaths.

The latest tremor toppled many buildings and leftcentral Christchurch strewn with debris. The city''s landmarkcathedral lost its spire. Dozens of aftershocks rocked thecity Tuesday and overnight, hampering rescue efforts.

Police Superintendent Russell Gibson warned that thetoll was certain to rise as more than 500 emergency workerscombed through shattered buildings, listening out for anysigns of life.

"There is incredible carnage right throughout thecity," he told Radio New Zealand. "There are bodies litteringthe streets, they are trapped in cars and crushed underrubble."Most of the city remained without power and Gibsonsaid rescue crews working through the night had freed 20-30people, some at desperate cost. (AFP)

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