Two Cornell students studying abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand have been evacuated from the city after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Tuesday afternoon. The earthquake killed at least 75 people, The New York Times reported.
Among the dead was one student at the University of Canterbury, where the two Cornell students were studying, according to Dr. Richard Gaulton, director of Cornell Abroad. The student was not killed on the university’s campus, he stated.
Gaulton said Cornell Abroad contacted the two students within a day of the earthquake and both are doing fine.
When the earthquake first hit, Taimur Alamgir ’12 was on the Canterbury campus, which suffered a power outage, Alamgir said in an e-mail.
“We initially didn’t think that the earthquake was as bad as it turned out to be as there was minimal damage to the University of Canterbury,” Alamgir wrote in the e-mail.
However, after friends that were off campus returned and shared their stories from around the city, the gravity of the event hit him, Alamgir said.
“The reality of the situation only hit us when a friend who lives with us returned from the downtown area,” Alamgir wrote. “She described traumatic scenes like the spire of Christchurch Cathedral falling on a bus and people trying to pull a severely injured man out of fallen rubble.”
Several large office towers collapsed, including the Pyne Gould building and the Canterbury Television headquarters, The Times reported. Cars, buses and people were crushed by the debris.
The University of Canterbury has suspended classes and Alamgir is now staying in a town outside the city.
“The situation here is dire, and my fellow study abroad students and I are not sure if the university will open at any time soon and if it will be possible to continue our semester,” Alamgir said. “Although my friends and I are currently staying at a very small town on Maori land, we are planning to return to Christchurch as soon as possible to volunteer in the relief effort.”
Gaulton said that he is keeping up with communications sent out by the University of Canterbury and will continue to monitor the situation in New Zealand. Gaulton added that he has attempted to communicate with the University of Canterbury, but has not yet received a reply.
“They’re trying to communicate with thousands of students and thousands in the community,” Gaulton said. “I don’t expect to be at the top of that list.”
According to Gaulton, Cornell has dealt with similar situations before, including the earthquake in Chile and the typhoons in Australia just before Cornell students were scheduled to arrive.
“Natural disasters can happen in many different places,” Gaulton said. “It’s not unheard of. Preparing and thinking about these situations is something that we have to do.”