BOUNTIFUL -- Iain McKay, honorary consul for New Zealand in Utah, is worried about his extended family in Christchurch.
A magnitude 6.3 earthquake shook Christchurch, one of New Zealand's most populous cities, shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday, destroying buildings and killing dozens of people.
McKay is far from alone: about 3,000 New Zealanders live in Utah, he said. And many are unable to reach their families during one of that country's "darkest days," McKay said, quoting the nation's prime minister.
The Bountiful man got his first call about four hours later from a colleague in Sydney, Australia, who told him New Zealand is in for a huge problem.
"Then the phones started to go," McKay said. People were calling all day, wanting to know how their families are doing. McKay, his own family on his mind, is sorry he does not have more solid answers than what they see in the news. Electricity is still out throughout the area, making it difficult for anyone to get in touch with their loved ones.
There are reports of widespread building collapse, especially in the central business district of the city, according to New Zealand's Ministry of Civil Defense. There have been 30 aftershocks with a magnitude between 4 and 6, as well as many smaller ones.
At least 75 people have died, 55 of whom have been identified so far, the ministry reported. About 300 are still missing.
"I had one man call me and said his uncle is in Christchurch hospital where he had a cancerous tumor removed, and his parents had flown down to be with him, and I can't get through," McKay said. He told the man the authorities are allowing people to return to the hospital and his uncle is likely back in its care. "But he asked, 'What about my mother and father?' I don't know."
Denise Morrison, of Farmington, was relieved when she found out in an e-mail from her brother, who lives two hours south of Christchurch, that their extended family is all right.
But the situation is still terrifying for many people down there, she said.
"It's just very, very scary and emotional. There are a lot of tears, watching it unfold," she said, adding that the scariest part of an earthquake is the complete lack of control anyone has as it wrecks the world around them. "A few seconds can seem like a lifetime. And when they're so big, they're just terrifying."
McKay and others with family across the ocean feel a similiar helplessness, as they can only watch the news from afar. The images of damaged and flooded streets, demolished buildings, and bodies are nothing like the "modern paradise" McKay remembers when he was in Christchurch last month for a family reunion.
Morrison mourns the loss of part of Christchurch Cathedral, a national icon, that sustained damage in the quake. McKay equates it to what the LDS Temple is to Utah.
And like Utah, New Zealand has a population of only a few million.
"Everyone is related somehow. Before all is said and done, we all will know someone personally who has passed away in this earthquake," Morrison said. "It's so emotional and very sad."
McKay said New Zealand is a well-prepared, first-world country that is doing everything in its power to help any survivors and their loved ones.
The New Zealand Red Cross has set up a telephone hotline for anyone looking for relatives they have not been able to get in contact with since the earthquake. The hotline number is 011-647-850-2199. The American Red Cross notes that inquiries about U.S. citizens living or traveling in New Zealand should be referred to the U.S. State Department's Office of Overseas Citizen Services. That number is 1-888-407-4747.