A 6.3-magnitude earthquake rocked New Zealand’s second-largest city Tuesday morning, sending buildings crashing to the street and toppling the city’s central Chabad-Lubavitch center.
According to Rabbi Shmuel Freedman, who moved to the area three months ago to co-direct the Christchurch headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch of New Zealand under Rabbi Mendel Goldstein, he and other personnel were inside the center when the earthquake struck. Shouting into his cell phone – one of the few forms of communication that offered some connection to the outside world after the quake – the rabbi described a scene of pandemonium.
“We all ran out as it was falling down, but thank G-d everybody is okay,” he said from Latimar Square, where Jewish families were congregating in the search for survivors. “We are getting everybody together now at the square to see if anybody is missing, and we are working very hard to help everybody.”
Unconfirmed news reports indicated that a number of hotels had collapsed in the city, and The Wall Street Journal, citing SkyTV News, reported that police had confirmed numerous fatalities in Christchurch.
“Other reports include multiple building collapses, fires in buildings and persons reported trapped in buildings,” the police reported in a statement. “All available police staff are assisting with evacuations and emergency responses.”
At Latimar Square, 600 meters from the Chabad House, Freedman, Jewish community officials and the Israeli embassy set up an emergency meeting point. But according to Tzippy Freedman, events were forcing people to evacuate to tent cities set up in the parks around Christchurch Hospital.
The Freedmans’ personal home was still standing, she said. But “everything inside is ruined.”
“Everyone’s just trying to evacuate. It’s really hectic right now,” she said. “Everyone is going to be sleeping in tents tonight.”
The temblor follows a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in September 2010 that caused significant damage to buildings throughout Christchurch.