Christchurch: A catastrophic earthquake has left nearly 400 people dead or missing here. New Zealand rescuers toiled hard through the night on Wednesday to reach the trapped survivors.

After New Zealand’s worst natural disaster in 80 years struck the country on Tuesday, Prime Minister John Key said the region around the country’s second-largest city had suffered ‘death and destruction on a dreadful scale’. He declared the earthquake a national emergency,

Rescuers had to remove limbs from survivors to free them from smouldering ruins of buildings reduced to debris in minutes.

Christchurch resident Tom Brittenden said he saw a woman die with her baby in her arms when she was hit by falling debris in the city's Cashel St Mall. Her baby survived.

Rescuers had recovered 75 bodies since the 6.3-magnitude quake struck at lunchtime Tuesday, and about 300 people were still missing, officials said.

The quake was the deadliest to hit New Zealand since 256 people died in a 1931 tremor, and it came six months after a 7.0-magnitude quake weakened buildings in Christchurch but
miraculously resulted in no deaths.

The latest tremor toppled many buildings and left central Christchurch strewn with debris. Police Superintendent Russell Gibson warned that the toll was certain to rise as more than 500 emergency workers combed through shattered buildings, listening out for any signs of life.


(With Agency Inputs)