CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — Some screamed from inside collapsed buildings. One woman used her cell phone to call her children to say goodbye. Others tapped on the rubble to communicate with those on the outside.
Search teams using dogs, heavy cranes and earth movers worked through dawn Wednesday in one of New Zealand's largest cities, trying frantically to find survivors amid the crumbled concrete, twisted metal and huge mounds of brick left by a powerful earthquake.
But they fear that the death toll — officially at least 65 as of Wednesday morning local time — could quickly rise, ranking the disaster among the island nation's worst earthquakes in 80 years. Officials say at least 100 more people are missing.
"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," Superintendent Russell Gibson said. "We are getting texts and tapping sounds from some of these buildings and that's where our focus is."
Asked how many may still be trapped, Gibson said: "It could be another hundred — it could be more."
Gibson said 38 bodies were in a temporary morgue at the central police station. "I know the figure of 65 (killed) has been mentioned (by Prime Minister John Key). It will be considerably higher than that," he warned, without elaborating.
"We've been pulling 20 or 30 people out of (two) buildings right throughout the night" where it was known people were trapped, he told National Radio. At least another dozen collapsed commercial buildings were also being searched for survivors.
Some survivors have emerged without a scratch, while others had to have a limb amputated before they could be freed, he said.
Medical workers brought the injured to a triage center set up in a park in central Christchurch, while military units patrolled near-empty streets disfigured by the huge cracks and canyons created in Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake, the second powerful temblor to hit the city in five months.
The quake toppled the spire of the city's historic stone cathedral, flattened tall buildings and sent chunks of concrete and bricks hurtling onto cars, buses and pedestrians below.