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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand -- All Mormon church missionaries serving in New Zealand are safe and accounted for in the wake of Tuesday's devastating earthquake centered in Christchurch, with local church leaders now assessing how to help members and other residents.
Several dozen people are confirmed dead following the midday magnitude-6.3 quake, which was said by seismologists to be an aftershock from the 7.2 earthquake that struck last September. Some 30 aftershocks of a magnitude between 4 and 6 followed Tuesday's initial quake.
By Monday night, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had accounted for the safety of all of its missionaries serving in the South Pacific island nation, said church spokesman Scott Trotter.
The LDS Church continues to assess the needs of those impacted by the quake as it determines how it can offer assistance.
Local church leaders are contacting LDS members throughout the city to confirm their safety and status and to gauge damage to church buildings. Such information will be used to identify where to mobilize immediate support as well as how much and what kinds of support are needed.
Search-and-rescue teams were scouring the rubble for survivors Wednesday. Early reports had the death toll at 65 people with the possibility of reaching 300, but Director of Civil Defence John Hamilton said the latest official number of confirmed dead was 32.
The LDS Church's Pacific Area Presidency released a statement saying, "We are deeply concerned for the people of Christchurch at this time. Many have lost their lives. ... We extend our love and sympathy to families and individuals who are grieving."
It added: "As a church bearing the name of Jesus Christ, we will continue to do as the Savior would have us do. We will work with government and other groups to bring help, healing and hope to those affected by this disaster."