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New Zealand earthquake shuts down flights out of the country

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AP Photo/TV3 via Associated Press Television News

(Read caption) An injured woman is carried to safety in Christchurch, New Zealand after at magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck Tuesday, Feb. 22.

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All international flights out of New Zealand were canceled Tuesday afternoon after a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit the South Island.

Auckland Airport spokesman Richard Llewellyn told the New Zealand Herald that the nation's entire airways system had been shut down shortly after the earthquake hit Christchurch, damaging downtown office buildings and trapping workers. TVNZ reports fatalities from two buses crushed by falling buildings.

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"For the moment planes, are landing but no planes are departing,'' Mr. Llewellyn told NZPA.

"The national air traffic control center is in Christchurch, and they are checking to make sure it is all OK, and until then the airways system has been closed."

The Christchurch airport is closed until at least 7 p.m. local time, and flights due to arrive there have been diverted to Auckland and Wellington airport.

Jetstar New Zealand announced that flights in and out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown have been suspended for the rest of the day.

Airways NZ, the state-owned enterprise that operates the nation's air traffic control system, is based in Christchurch and is reportedly trying to verify the status of its equipment. There are unconfirmed reports that the Airways building was also damaged.

Since the first quake hit at 12:51 p.m. local time, the New Zealand GNS Science reports a series of nine strong aftershocks, ranging from magnitude 3.4 to 5.7.

Some of the buildings may have been weakened by a magnitude 7.1 quake that struck the Christchurch area last September. And because this quake was relatively shallow, it may have caused more damage than the higher magnitude quake in September.

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The New Zealand Herald quotes Roger Sutton, CEO of Orion New Zealand, a power company, that electricity is down across 80 percent of Christchurch, "This is much, much more serious than last time," says Mr. Sutton, "We have some major power assets that have been damaged by this quake."

Urban search and rescue crews are moving into the city, and Australia has offered to send assistance.

A Google page to help people locate family and friends has been set up here:

http://christchurch-2011.person-finder.appspot.com/


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