Updated from 9:06 a.m. EST with information regarding the ongoing rescue and relief efforts.
NEW YORK (
) -- More than 65 people have been killed and dozens injured in Christchurch, New Zealand after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck at 12:51 p.m. local time on Tuesday, reports say.
The quake struck just 3.1 miles beneath the earth's surface, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and was centered only three miles outside the city of Christchurch on the south island of New Zealand.
A powerful earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand, on Tuesday, toppling tall buildings and churches, crushing buses and killing dozens of people in one of the country's worst natural disasters.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency after the quake, and ordered the city to evacuate.
The main quake was shortly followed by two aftershocks, one a magnitude 5.6 and the other 5.5, which caused buildings to crumble and collapse. The top of the city's 130-year-old Christchurch Cathedral broke off and smashed into the city square.
"To see the top of the cathedral come down, I've never seen anything like it. There's just no words to be quite honest, it was just absolutely awful,"
quoted one survivor as saying.
Rescuers were working to free more than 100 people that are thought to be trapped in the rubble of a damaged office building at the center of the city.
"It's an absolute tragedy for this city, for New Zealand, for the people we care so much about," Prime Minister John Key said. He said the disaster has brought "utter devastation."
"This is a community that is absolutely in agony," Key said,
reports. "We will get through this. New Zealand will regroup and Christchurch will regroup."
Key said that at least 65 have been killed, and that the death toll is likely to rise.
The death toll could climb to between 200 and 300,
The New Zealand Herald
"Construction workers and search and rescue specialists are toiling under floodlights on a cold and wet night to dig out survivors and the dead from buildings flattened by the earthquake that ripped the city apart today," the
The damage has been said to be worse than the aftermath of the 7.1 magnitude quake that hit the region last September, in which two were seriously injured but no deaths occurred.
Rescue efforts were underway and thousands of residents were making their way to a number of temporary shelters that have been set up around the city, according to New Zealand's
News Channel 3
, after houses and buildings were completely destroyed in the tremors, while many others were left without running water or electricity.
Roads and sidewalks crumbled after the quake caused giant cracks in the pavement throughout the city.
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said that hundreds of military personnel were being made available to provide first aid, security and search and rescue services to the Christchurch residents. More search and rescue teams were expected to arrive overnight,
-- Written by Theresa McCabe in Boston.
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