More than 400 Australian doctors attending a prostate cancer conference in Christchurch will spend the night in a park after their hotel was damaged by an earthquake.
A 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit the New Zealand South Island city, killing 65 people and destroying the city’s cathedral.
The death toll is expected to rise. Dr David Malouf, president of the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, was at the health conference attended by more than 600 delegates from around the world, including 439 Australians, at Christchurch’s Crowne Plaza Hotel when the quake struck.
He said it felt like a wrecking ball was being smashed into the side of the building as the ground shook for between 45 seconds and a minute.
“The noise was incredible,” Dr Malouf, from Kensington in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, told AAP.
“I don’t understand what made that noise but it was like a jet engine outside. “The whole building started to shake, violently shaking to the point where, if you were trying to stand up, you would fall over.”
The doctors made their way to the hotel foyer, which was covered in glass and pieces of the ceiling, before they walked through the shattered front windows and onto the street.
“There were just people slowly filing out of buildings with this sort of look of bewilderment on their face,” he said.
“People were very distressed. “What was really quite disturbing was water coming out of the ground.
Lakes were just appearing in the middle of the street.” Dr Malouf said there were cracks in buildings and fissures opening up in the roads, while trees had been ripped out of the ground.
The delegates, most of whom have been accounted for, have been evacuated to Hagley Park, where they are likely to spend the night.
Dr Malouf said the doctors’ belongings remained in hotels, including money and passports.
They could retrieve them until engineers assess the buildings. He appealed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard to get them home.
“We don’t need to be here. We’re tourists in a city which has been hit by a disaster and we’re 300 people that the Kiwis shouldn’t really have to look after,” he said.