Sixty five people are so far believed to have lost their lives in today's 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch and officials warn this figure is likely to rise.
Emergency services are continuing to search the central city, particularly the high rise buildings in the central business district, many of which have been extensively damaged.
The immediate focus for emergency services is rescuing people trapped in buildings following the quake which happened at 12.51pm.
Around 200 extra staff are being sent from around New Zealand to Christchurch to help Canterbury staff in the rescue effort.
The central city business district has been cordoned off and police are warning people to stay away from the areas within Madras, St Asaph, Montreal and Kilmore Streets. People who try to get into the cordoned off areas will be turned away. There is reported damage in other parts of the city including Lyttelton.
Superintendent Dave Cliff, Canterbury Police District Commander, said police know there are people unaccounted for in buildings within the central city, and aftershocks have continued since the main quake struck at lunchtime.
"This is a sad day for Christchurch, and indeed New Zealand," Superintendent Cliff said. "Our hearts go out to all those who are suffering from today's awful events."
Police urged people to:
• stay out of the central city
• stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to travel
• check the welfare of your neighbours - especially the elderly
• conserve water
The Lyttleton road tunnel is closed and there are rockfalls on the Summit Road so please avoid these areas. Ferrymead Bridge is closed.
Emergency triage centres for the injured are operating at Latimer Square, Canterbury University and the Sanitarium Building in Papanui - not South City or the Spotlight Mall, Sydenham.