A deadly earthquake has killed more than 65 people on New Zealand’s South Island.
The powerful 6.3-magnitude quake struck around 10km outside Christchurch during lunchtime rush hour, causing widespread destruction and injury.
Eyewitnesses said the 5km deep tremor, believed to be an aftershock from a 7.1 magnitude earthquake which struck last September, levelled high-rise buildings, tore up pavements and sprayed rubble onto the streets below.
A state of emergency has been declared in the city with collapsed debris and buildings trapping an unknown number of people.
The British High Commission in Wellington confirmed buildings had collapsed, water pipes had burst and the Cathedral in the centre of the city had sustained damaged.
Commission spokesman Chris Harrington said: “The tremor has been classified as an aftershock and although it was not as strong as the quake last September, there have been reports of serious injuries. Its centre was about 10km outside Christchurch and 5km deep.
“The quake hit during the middle of the day, whereas the September incident happened at 4am in the morning so it has done more damage.”
Harrington added that buildings which had survived the September quake had been demolished.
The 4 September quake wrecked hundreds of buildings in the city causing an estimated NZ$4bn (£1.8bn). A strong aftershock in December caused further damage to buildings.
The city was still rebuilding from those quakes when the latest one hit.
Prime minister John Key held an emergency Cabinet meeting then rushed to the stricken city. “It is a just a scene of utter devastation,” he said, before revealing the death toll was 65, and may rise.
“This may be New Zealand’s darkest day,” he told TV One News.
Earlier he had said the disaster had struck at a time when the city was at its most populated, with people at work and children at school.
Key said people were being told to get out of the city for their safety, while the airport was closed and Christchurch Hospital was evacuated.
New Zealand police said in a statement that there were reports that two buses had been crushed by falling buildings.
The city is home to about 350,000 people and is considered a tourist centre and gateway to the South Island. There were other reports of fires burning in the city and people being trapped in buildings.
New Zealand sits on the Pacific “ring of fire” - an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through the South Pacific.
It records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year - but only about 150 are felt by residents, and fewer than 10 a year do any damage.