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Pope urges prayers for victims of earthquake

The Catholic cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand's second city (Photo: PA)

Pope Benedict XVI has asked people to pray for the victims of a massive earthquake in New Zealand that has claimed at least 75 lives.

At the end of his weekly general audience this morning, he said: “A new and powerful earthquake, even more devastating than the one last September, has struck the city of Christchurch, in New Zealand, causing considerable loss of life and the disappearance of many people, to say nothing of the damage to buildings.

“At this time, my thoughts turn especially to the people there who are being severely tested by this tragedy,” Pope Benedict said. “Let us ask God to relieve their suffering and to support all who are involved in the rescue operations. I also ask you to join me in praying for all who have lost their lives”.

The Pope was speaking as the death toll from the 6.3-magnitude earthquake reached 75, with hundreds of people still missing.

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, the Apostolic Nuncio to New Zealand, said people were still trapped and collapsed buildings were “so unstable it is difficult for rescuers to find them”.

The archbishop said: “The city is still 80 per cent without water and electricity and relief camps have been set up for the people.” He added that New Zealanders were grateful for the Pope’s message of solidarity and prayers.

Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who visited Christchurch after World Youth Day three years ago, has also offered his prayers.

In a letter to Bishop Barry Jones of Christchurch, he said: “On behalf of our people in Scotland, so many of whom have close family ties with New Zealand, I extend to you our heartfelt sympathy following on the disastrous earthquake which has struck your beautiful City, Christchurch. Our prayers are for those who are killed; and our sympathy extends to the survivors, many of whom have lost their homes and all their belongings.”

The Christchurch Catholic cathedral is one of many buildings to have been badly damaged.