A Christchurch man has described to the Herald running for his life from a gunman while his friends were shot dead.

Mohan Ibrahim is one of around 400 people who were inside Christchurch's Masjid Al Noor mosque near Hagley Park praying when the shooting began.

"I didn't get a glimpse of the gunman as I was in the next room, but all of a sudden we heard the shots being fired and people just started running for their lives. I'm still in shock.

"A lot of people have been killed and many are injured. I can see a girl dead in the middle of the road," Ibrahim said in tears.

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He managed to escape and is now around 200m from the scene of the shooting on Deans Ave.

"I am scared for my friends. Some are still inside and we have been calling but can't get hold of them," Ibrahim said.

He said his friends who were at the other mosque in Linwood had called him saying the shooting occurred there at the same time.

"I have friends at both Islamic centres - it's terrifying and I don't know what to do."

He said it was completely unexpected.

"You think New Zealand is the safest place in the world, it's just really unexpected."

Sophie Nears, 19, told the Herald her friend had called her screaming that he had been shot in the leg and he was hysterical - she did not know if her friend was alive.

"He just hung up and I haven't been able to get back in contact with him.

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"I've never heard him cry before. He was screaming that heaps of people were dead and then the line just cut out."