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New Zealand earthquake: ‘At least 65 killed’

The earthquake struck the South Island just after midnight local time. PHOTO: AP

AT least 65 people have died and dozens are trapped in rubble after a devastating 6.3-magnitude earthquake ravaged the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Sunday.

Just minutes after New Zealand’s Civil Defence director John Hamilton confirmed about 3.50pm local time that 17 people had died in the quake, Prime Minister John Key announced the death toll had risen to 65.

Mr Key said the death toll was expected to rise further.

“The death toll I have at the moment is 65 and that may rise. So it’s an absolute tragedy for this city, for New Zealand, for the people that we care so much about,” he said.

“It’s a terrifying time for the people of Canterbury.”

Civil Defence workers have retrieved the 65 bodies from the rubble of buildings destroyed when the earthquake hit the city at lunchtime, collapsing office buildings and sending bricks and other heavy debris toppling into busy city streets.

The timing of the quake – striking when streets and workplaces were packed – was in stark contrast to a major quake that damaged the city last September but caused no deaths when it struck before dawn on a weekend.

Emergency crews are still trying to reach dozens trapped in the rubble, pulling people from the Pyne Gould Guinness building where it was reported 200 people had originally been trapped.

Television footage showed the building had collapsed under the immense power of the quake.

Elsewhere in the city, TV3 said the Provincial Council Chambers building had collapsed and people were believed to be trapped inside.