Authorities in New Zealand report at least 65 dead in a magnitude 6.3 earthquake that rocked Christchurch last night. Reports are that people remain trapped in collapsed buildings. Rescuers are coming from around the nation and Australia.

Earthquake Rocks Christchurch NZ

The powerful earthquake struck at midday, when throngs of people were busy working or at lunch and shopping. The intense shaking toppled tall buildings and churches, crushing buses and killed at least 65 people in one of the country’s worst natural disasters.

This was the second major quake to hit Christchurch, a city of 350,000, in five months, though Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude temblor caused far more destruction than a stronger September quake that struck before dawn on a weekend. More than 100 people, including as many as a dozen visiting Japanese students, were thought to be trapped in the rubble as darkness and drizzling rain fell Tuesday night.

The spire of the city’s well-known stone cathedral toppled into a central square, while multistory buildings collapsed in on themselves and streets were strewn with bricks and shattered concrete.

A state of emergency has been declared in Christchurch with people ordered to evacuate the city center. “We may well be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day…The death toll I have at the moment is 65 and that may rise,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told local TV.

The tremor was centered about six miles southwest of Christchurch, which had suffered widespread damage during last September’s 7.1 magnitude quake but no deaths.

James Goff, of the University of New South Wales’ Natural Hazards Research Laboratory in Australia, said some buildings that survived last year’s quake had been weakened and unable to withstand the second one, especially such a shallow tremor.

“A lot of the infrastructure has still not fully recovered from the last earthquake so that would have still been feeling weak and susceptible to another big earthquake,” he said.

The region has been struck by thousands of aftershocks since the original quake.

Built largely on a sandy layer over a water table, when a quake hits, liquefaction – the process of vibration causing water to mix with the sand, causing swamp-like conditions – swallowed roads and cars.

“Our hearts and prayers and full support are extended to the people of Christchurch” said Dr. Angelone, our founder.