CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Search teams used their bare hands, dogs, heavy cranes and earth movers today to pull 120 survivors from the rubble of a powerful earthquake in one of New Zealand's largest cities. Officials raised the death toll to at least 75, with 300 others listed as missing.
As rescuers dug through the crumbled concrete, twisted metal and huge mounds of brick across Christchurch, officials feared that the death toll could rise, ranking the 6.3-magnitude earthquake among the island nation's worst in 80 years.
"There are bodies littering the streets, they are trapped in cars, crushed under rubble and where they are clearly deceased our focus … has turned to the living," police Superintendent Russell Gibson said.
Prime Minister John Key said at a news conference that 75 people were confirmed to have been killed, with 55 of them identified. He declared a state of national emergency, giving the government wider powers to take control of a rescue and recovery operation that was growing by the hour.
Rescuers were concentrating on at least a dozen buildings that collapsed or were badly damaged.
In one of the worst, a camera inserted into the rubble showed images of people still alive, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said. He said 120 people were rescued from wrecked buildings, while more bodies were recovered.
Some survivors emerged without a scratch, while others had to have a limb amputated before they could be freed.
Military units patrolled near-empty streets disfigured by the huge cracks and canyons created in Tuesday's earthquake, the second powerful temblor to hit the city in five months. The quake toppled the spire of the city's historic stone cathedral and flattened tall buildings.
"People were covered in rubble, covered in several tons of concrete," said web designer Nathaniel Boehm, who was outside on his lunch break when the quake struck just before 1 p.m. He saw the eaves of buildings cascade onto the street, burying people below. "It was horrific."
Thousands of people in the city moved into temporary shelters at schools and community halls. Others, including tourists who had abandoned their hotels, huddled in hastily pitched tents and under plastic sheeting as drizzling rain fell, while the Red Cross tried to find them accommodations.
Mayor Parker said 300 people were listed as missing but cautioned that they did not know the number trapped in collapsed buildings. More than 400 rescue workers were joining the search, including teams from Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, the United States and Britain.
A more powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, a city of 350,000, on Sept. 4, but caused no deaths. The latest one was deadlier because it was shallower and closer to population centers. It was centered 3 miles from the city, experts say.