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Quake death toll hits 75

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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand -- Some screamed from inside collapsed buildings. One woman used her mobile phone to call her children to say goodbye. Others tapped on the rubble to communicate with those on the outside.

Search teams using their bare hands, dogs, heavy cranes and earth movers worked frantically on Wednesday in one of New Zealand's largest cities to find survivors of a powerful earthquake as officials raised the death toll to at least 75.

Rescuers pulled nearly three dozen survivors from amid the crumbled concrete, twisted metal and huge mounds of brick across Christchurch.

Officials feared that the death toll could rise further, ranking the 6.3-magnitude earthquake among the island nation's worst in 80 years. They say at least 100 more people are missing.

"There are bodies littering the streets, they are trapped in cars, crushed under rubble and where they are clearly deceased our focus ... has turned to the living," police Superintendent Russell Gibson said.

Asked how many may still be trapped, he said: "It could be another hundred -- it could be more."

Gibson said 39 bodies had been identified at a temporary morgue at the central police station. Prime Minister John Key said at least 75 people had been killed, and Gibson said the final figure "will be considerably higher than that."

Rescuers are concentrating on at least a dozen buildings that collapsed or were badly damaged. Urban search and rescue coordinator Paul Burt said at least 32 trapped people had been rescued from collapsed buildings overnight, and several more bodies had also been recovered.

Some survivors have emerged without a scratch, while others had to have a limb amputated before they could be freed.

Medical workers brought the injured to a triage center set up in a park in central Christchurch, while military units patrolled near-empty streets disfigured by the huge cracks and canyons created in Tuesday's quake, the second powerful temblor to hit the city in five months.

The quake toppled the spire of the city's historic stone cathedral, flattened tall buildings and sent chunks of concrete and bricks hurtling onto cars, buses and pedestrians below.

"People were covered in rubble, covered in several tons of concrete," said web designer Nathaniel Boehm, who was outside on his lunch break when the quake struck just before 1 p.m. He saw the eaves of buildings cascade onto the street, burying people below.

"It was horrific," he said.

Mall worker Tom Brittenden told of how he had helped pull victims from the rubble in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

"There was a lady outside we tried to free with a child," Brittenden told National Radio. "A big bit of concrete or brick had fallen on her and she was holding her child. She was gone. The baby was taken away."

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