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Deaths reported as major quake hits New Zealand

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WELLINGTON – Multiple deaths were reported as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch in New Zealand Tuesday, toppling buildings, igniting fires and sending panicked people rushing into the streets.

The widespread damage came from a shallow lunch-time tremor in a city of 340,000 still recovering from a powerful quake in September, which did not cause any fatalities but did weaken many buildings.

Christchurch airport was temporarily closed and police said they were evacuating the city centre as building frontages collapsed, with witnesses saying there were people trapped inside.

Cars were buried under rubble and roads buckled as the tremor opened ruptures in the ground.

“It was just unbelievable, it was so strong, nothing like I’ve ever experienced before, just horrible,” local shopkeeper Julian Hogday told TV3.

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Police feared multiple deaths, including in two buses that were crushed by falling debris.

“Multiple fatalities have been reported at several locations in the central city, including two buses crushed by falling buildings. A doctor and emergency services are attending,” a police statement said.

“Other reports include multiple building collapses, fires in buildings in the central (city) and persons reported trapped in buildings.”

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New Zealand Prime Minister John Key feared the worst after the quake struck at 12:51 pm (2351 GMT Monday), five kilometres (three miles) from the city at a depth of just four kilometres.

“It is a very populated time with people at work, children at school,” he said.

“Sadly I cannot rule out whether there have been fatalities or not, but we are aware of significant damage to buildings that had people in them at the time.”

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On September 4, Christchurch suffered the most destructive quake to hit New Zealand in 80 years when a 7.0-magnitude tremor damaged 100,000 homes, leaving a clean-up bill estimated at NZ$4.0 billion dollars (US$3.0 billion).

The city remained under a state of emergency for weeks with police cordoning off the centre for fear of collapsing buildings, as thousands of aftershocks hit the region.

At the time, authorities gave a clean bill of health to Christchurch’s 36,000-capacity AMI stadium, one of the venues for the rugby World Cup starting in September.


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Christine Lagarde resigns as head of IMF

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International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde submitted her resignation from the global crisis lender on Tuesday, citing more clarity about her nomination to lead the European Central Bank as European legislators approved a new top bureaucrat.

Lagarde said in a statement her resignation was effective Sept. 12, firing the starting gun for the IMF’s search for her successor, which is likely to be another European.

“With greater clarity now on the process for my nomination as ECB President and the time it will take, I have made this decision in the best interest of the Fund,” Lagarde said in a statement.

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Ex-Peru president wanted for corruption arrested in the US

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Former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo was arrested in the United States Tuesday to face extradition to his home country on corruption charges, authorities in the South American nation said.

The 73-year-old is suspected of involvement in the sprawling Odebrecht scandal in which the construction giant paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes throughout the continent to secure huge public works contracts.

The Peruvian attorney general's office announced on Twitter that Toledo "was arrested this morning for extradition, in the United States."

Toledo has been formally charged with receiving a $20 million payment from Odebrecht to grant it the tender to build the Interoceanic Highway that links Peru with Brazil.

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Red Alert: record temperatures in world’s northernmost settlement

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Temperatures hit a record 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit in Alert, the northernmost permanently inhabited spot on the planet less than 600 miles from the North Pole, the Canadian meteorology service said Tuesday.

"It's quite phenomenal as a statistic, it's just one example among hundreds and hundreds of other records established by global warming," Armel Castellan, a meteorologist at the Canadian environment ministry told AFP.

The temperature -- 21 degrees on the Celsius scale -- was recorded on Sunday at Alert, a permanent military base on the 82nd parallel which intercepts Russian communications and which has been home to a weather station since 1950.

The temperature was marked at 69.8 F on Sunday and 68 F the following day. "It's an absolute record, we've never seen that before," said Castellan.

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