WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A powerful earthquake struck New Zealand's already-bruised city of Christchurch today, collapsing buildings, burying vehicles under debris and sending rescuers scrambling to help trapped people amid reports of multiple deaths.
The 6.3-magnitude quake struck on a busy weekday afternoon, in contrast to a major quake that damaged the city last September but caused no deaths when it struck before dawn on a weekend. Police said there were reports of multiple fatalities from the latest temblor, while Prime Minister John Key told Parliament details of the deaths still were too shaky to confirm.
Witnesses said the quake destroyed the iconic stone Christchurch Cathedral, its spire toppled into a central city square, and police said there was a report of two buses crushed under falling buildings.
Live video footage showed parts of buildings collapsed into the streets, strewn with bricks and hattered concrete. Sidewalks and roads were cracked and split, and thousands of dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered through the streets as sirens blared.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city center.
"Make no mistake — this is going to be a very black day for this shaken city," he said when asked about possible deaths.
The airport was closed and Christchurch Hospital was evacuated. Power and telephone lines were knocked out, and pipes burst, flooding the streets with water. Some cars apparently parked on the street were buried under rubble.
Some people were stuck in office towers and firefighters climbed ladders to pluck people trapped on roofs to safety.
"The details we have are extremely sketchy," the prime minister told Parliament. "The worrying fear, of course, is that this earthquake has taken place at a time when people were going about their business — it is a very populated time, with people at work, children at school. Sadly, I cannot rule out that there have been fatalities.