A day after a magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand at 12:51 p.m. Tuesday, the country’s police authorities said at least 75 people were confirmed dead and some 300 others were missing.

The safety of 27 Japanese, most of them staying in the city for English- language training, has not yet been determined. The students are trapped in a building that collapsed during the quake.

It is said that rescue within the first 72 hours of an earthquake is critical for the survival of people trapped inside collapsed buildings. If there is air and water, and if they are not critically injured, however, they can survive longer. It is hoped that rescue operations in the city will go smoothly. Japan’s rescue team, which includes 17 rescuers as well as doctors, nurses, police and coast guard officers, has arrived and started its work in Christchurch.

New Zealand is located near where the Pacific plate and the Indo-Australia plate meet. Thus the country is prone to quakes. In September 2010, Christchurch was hit by a magnitude-7 quake. Although buildings were damaged, there were no deaths.

On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude-7 temblor hit Haiti in the Caribbean Sea, killing more than 220,000 people. Chile was also hit by a magnitude-8.8 temblor last Feb. 27, with the death toll topping 500.

Although the quake that hit Christchurch this time was smaller than that of the September 2010 quake, the damage was greater. This is because the quake’s epicenter was only 5 km from the city and its focus was relatively shallow at about 4 km below the surface, compared with the focus of last year’s quake, which was about 10 km below the surface. New buildings in New Zealand are built to withstand quakes, but many older structures appear to have been destroyed in the recent disaster.

The Christchurch quake serves as a reminder to Japanese of the disastrous potential of an earthquake that occurs near a populated area and at a shallow depth from the surface.

Japan should not delay in taking the necessary steps to improve its quake response and preparedness, including making buildings quake-resistant, and devising effective rescue and relief plans.

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