New Zealand Quake Strands Travelers

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AP

As the death toll continued to rise in the wake of a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, flights across the country were temporarily grounded, and passengers stranded.

Christchurch, a popular tourist city known for its Gothic buildings, remained in a state of emergency in the aftermath of the quake. Rescuers were scrambling to free people from rubble in collapsed buildings and buried vehicles. Power lines were down and pipes were bursting and flooding city streets.

Among the buildings destroyed was one of the city's top attractions – the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. The spire of the historic church toppled into a center city square.

Christchurch Airport, a major tourist gateway for the South Island, sustained damage, reportedly including cracked plaster and falling roof tiles.

People waiting for arriving passengers on an Air New Zealand just as the earthquake struck, described a scary scene with the tarmac, planes and airport terminal all rocking.

The airport was evacuated and remained closed. Officials said the control tower and buildings are intact but advised people not to travel to the airport.

Auckland Airport spokesman Richard Llewellyn told Sky News airports around the country were temporarily closed as a precautionary measure.

But Qantas said that while Christchurch remained closed it was resuming flights to other parts of New Zealand including Auckland and Wellington.

Hundreds of travelers with routes through Christchurch found themselves stranded in Queenstown, gateway to the South Island's popular Lakes District. Airport officials said they expect to be busy for days rebooking travelers.

One stranded traveler said she doesn't expect to be able to get home anytime soon, "But we're alive and fine," she said.

Christchurch was also hit by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in September.

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