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Hopes fade for NZ quake missing

Posted on 24th February 2011 at 06:57am

Hopes are fading of finding survivors beneath collapsed buildings in the aftermath of Tuesday's earthquake in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

Ninety-eight bodies have now been recovered and taken to a temporary morgue. Prime Minister John Key said that number could rise substantially.

Police have said 226 people are missing - up to 120 of them at one site alone.

But they have also insisted it remains a rescue operation and that specialists are still hunting for signs of life.

The earthquake struck at a shallow depth of 5km (3.1 miles) early in the afternoon on Tuesday, when the South Island city was at its busiest.

It was Christchurch's second major tremor in five months, and New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster for 80 years.


Hundreds of foreign search and rescue specialists - from the US, UK, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan - arrived in the city on Thursday to help police and soldiers combing through the dangerously unstable ruins.

They used sniffer dogs, sound detectors, thermal imaging equipment and cameras to detect any signs of life, but as the day drew to a close there had been none. The last survivor was found Wednesday afternoon.

Despite the lack of results, many of the rescuers remained hopeful.

"Miracles happen and we're keeping that in the forefront of our minds. That sort of things drives you and pushes you on," Keith Norton told the Reuters news agency.

Superintendent Dave Cliff, the police district commander, said it had not yet turned into a recovery operation.

He said there might be between 60 and 120 bodies alone beneath the collapsed Canterbury Television building, which has been deemed "unsurvivable". It contained the offices of a local TV station, a language school and a nursing school.

Prime Minister Key later said there were no survivors from the CTV building site, and that foreign nationals were among the dead.

Search and rescue personnel returned to the site on Wednesday evening, after withdrawing earlier because of the risk of collapse of the nearby Hotel Grand Chancellor, Christchurch's second tallest building.

Another 16 to 22 people are presumed to have died in the Christchurch Cathedral, which lost its spire and a section of roof, Supt Cliff said.

Rescue teams have resumed their search of the Pyne Gould Guinness building - the location of the last rescue - after pulling out on Thursday morning because aftershocks were making the structure unstable.

Police have said there may be 20 people unaccounted for inside.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said it had been a dreadful day for rescue teams, but that they would continue to check the city centre thoroughly for survivors.

Supt Cliff said a growing number of bodies were being sent to the temporary morgue.

The names of the deceased would start to be released soon, along with the missing people thought to have been caught up in the disaster, he added. But he stressed that this did not mean they had been killed.

Medical officials said 164 seriously injured people had been admitted to hospital with a range of conditions from crush and spinal injuries to broken bones. The total number of injured was about 2,500.

With no indication of when the city centre would re-open, Mr Key earlier told reporters the impact on the local economy would be significant.

A JP Morgan analyst has estimated the insurance losses at $12bn.

Christchurch's airport reopened on Wednesday, and military planes were brought in to fly tourists to other cities.

Many residents meanwhile spent another grim night camped in evacuation centres. Those still with homes have been told to avoid showering or flushing toilets because the sewerage system is damaged.

Water tankers have been sent to 14 locations throughout the city to allow people to fill buckets and bottles, and portable toilets set up. The electricity supply has been restored to 60% of the city.

New Zealand experiences more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which only around 20 have a magnitude greater than 5.0.

Tuesday's was the country's worst natural disaster since a 1931 quake in Hawke's Bay on the North Island killed 256 people.

News Feed from BBC News

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