One man caught up in yesterday's killer aftershock managed to telephone his wife who was trapped in wreckage, then alert rescuers with cries of "She's alive, she's trapped in there."
Late last night the race was on to find the woman, in the rubble of the Canterbury Television building.
She was one of several people feared trapped at one of six major rescue sites in the city.
A Southern Demolition employee, who did not want to be named, said rescue personnel pulled bodies from the rubble while he was assisting in the recovery effort.
However, a rescuer told the Herald there were survivors in an air pocket on the third floor.
One of those survivors was the man who called his wife.
Construction workers and search and rescue specialists toiled under floodlights in cold and wet conditions.
A human chain was formed on one side of the building to move bricks while on the other side diggers were used to clear the way to give rescue teams better access to the ruins.
Two diggers worked at the site at 11.30pm last night as a fire blazed and smoke billowed out. It continued to spark back into life despite the best efforts of helicopters dousing it with monsoon buckets and firefighters tackling it with hoses.
The building housed a language school and also a creche.
"We were working on one side of the building and on that side we managed to pull out one person alive but we also pulled out a body," said the Southern Demolition employee. "On the other side they pulled out four or five - I don't know if they were dead or alive. It was awful."
He said grimly that more bodies were destined to be pulled from the destruction.
"It was a big building and now it's nothing. There's got to be more inside there."
Meanwhile, a rescuer told the Herald that there were bodies crushed in cars around town.
"They are simply marking those cars with a cross and will come back later to recover the bodies," he said.
An army officer said he had seen half a dozen bodies lying in the road.
Thirty officers, including six disaster victim identification staff and two recovery dogs, are travelling from the wider Auckland districts and are expected in Christchurch today.