There are 76 dead in the temporary morgue set up by police in Christchurch and more coming "in ones and twos", Police Minister Judith Collins says.
Ms Collins described the PGC Building, where the focus has shifted from rescue to recovery, as a "scene of utter devastation".
At a press conference this afternoon, she praised the rescue workers' efforts, many who have lost their own homes in the quake.
District Commander Superintendent Dave Cliff said names of the deceased would start to be released at 4pm.
The names of those people missing who are believed to have been caught up in the disaster will also be released, although Mr Cliff said this does not mean they had been killed.
Mr Cliff said that while looting had been minimal, family violence was an issue as people were stressed.
"We want people to turn to their family, not turn against them."
He dismissed reports of "signs of life" heard at buildings this morning.
"Some of the information is rumour, speculation, not founded on fact."
He said there could be up to 120 bodies in the collapsed CTV building, which police have deemed "unsurvivable".
Mr Cliff today confirmed the estimated number of people trapped in the CTV building ranged from the high 60s to 120.
Another 16 to 22 people are presumed to have died in the Christchurch Cathedral, which was devastated in the 6.3 magnitude quake on Tuesday, he said.
Mr Cliff said those people would be added to a still growing number of bodies being sent to the temporary morgue set up by emergency services.
"That number is growing as we speak, when I go back I'm expecting that number to be more."
Mr Cliff said there were still 238 people listed as missing in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.
Teams were using sniffer dogs, listening devices and cameras to check through the rubble of damaged buildings throughout the city centre for signs of life, he said.
He is still labelling their work a rescue operation.
Defence Minister Wayne Mapp told media he had visited Lyttelton today and said it was "heavily devastated".
"I was told there haven't been any deceased in Lyttelton itself," he said. "There is anxiety. The central part has essentially been destroyed. There is one supermarket - that supermarket is closed. There is no petrol station. There is no running water, like much of the city."
He said people in the town were reliant on the Navy for food.
Dangerous cliff-face recovery
Meanwhile, police teams have begun the dangerous task of recovering a man's body from below a crumbling cliff face in Sumner, southeast of Christchurch city.
The man appeared to have been killed in Tuesday's earthquake while operating a crane at a building site next door to the township's RSA, Urban Search and Rescue squad leader Scott Shadbolt told NZPA.
The crane was crushed by huge boulders, some twice the size of a bus, dislodged by the quake.
The victim was understood to be a contractor and police were still trying to get in touch with his employers to establish his identity.
Mr Shadbolt said the area was still unstable, and there were concerns more of the hill could come down as they tried to extract the body with a digger.
"There are three areas the geotechnical engineers have pointed out to us that they are concerned about," he said.
"If any of those areas move then there's a...chance it could come close to the digger, it just depends, as it falls and bounces, which way it goes."
Two "spotters" were monitoring the situation.
All the houses around the area have been evacuated and a 200m stretch of road has been cordoned off.
More bodies found at CTV
Rescuers have found several more bodies at the collapsed CTV building today.
A large team of Japanese searchers earlier entered the site with dogs and several bodies have now been carried out of the rubble in body bags.
Australian search and rescue personnel had been using specialist listening equipment at the site this morning but said they had not heard any signs of life.
Queensland USR Deputy taskforce leader Peter Dawson said that his team had spent the morning at the site after reports a text message had been sent from it.
"We have not been able pick up any confirmation of anybody... at the moment." he said.
Rescuers last night returned to the site to sift through the rubble.
Police stressed the work was a recovery operation as more survivors were not expected, but said the teams always remained hopeful.
Recovery the focus at PGC
Meanwhile, search and rescue personnel at the Pyne Gould Corporation building have switched their focus from trying to find survivors to recovering the dead, the company says.
Chief Executive Jeff Greenslade said emergency services informed him of the change this morning.
Mr Greenslade said 10 Perpetual and four MARAC staff were believed to still be in the building.
"Our thoughts are with our missing colleagues and their families. We have been praying that those who are trapped will be safely found, and while we haven't given up all hope sadly the prognosis from the emergency services has worsened," he said.
Mr Greenslade said rescue teams had worked "tirelessly" since the quake in trying conditions.
"We have been alongside them hoping for some positive news regarding our friends and colleagues. This is a tragedy."
He said counselling services had been offered to all PGC staff.
No survivors at Holy Cross Chapel
Rescuers also found no survivors at the Holy Cross Chapel on Chancery Lane, where signs of life were reported this morning, the Fire Service said.
Two Australian search and rescue teams who were deployed to the building said they found no-one there. They told Newstalk ZB they had since been sent to the PGG building.
A Fire Service spokeswoman said search and rescue teams with dogs had done a full investigation and been unable to find any signs of life at two buildings on Chancery Lane and Gloucester St.
Police earlier said no more survivors had been pulled out of the rubble overnight, with the last person rescued alive at 3pm yesterday.
Coroner can cope with death toll
Contingency plans have been put in place to ensure the coronial system can cope "whatever the death toll" from Christchurch's devastating earthquake reaches, Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said.
Mortuary facilities were in place at Christchurch Hospital and Burnham Military Camp and so far there was no need to transfer the bodies of earthquake victims out of the region, Judge MacLean said.
"I am confident that in this time of immense grief and sorrow we can cope with whatever the death toll reaches," he said.
"We are getting incredible support from police and other Government agencies, the military, funeral directors and pathologists, and are all pulling together to do what has to be done.
"Inevitably in these circumstances there may be some delays but we will do all we can to make sure bereaved families have their loved ones back as quickly as possible."
238 reported missing
164 patients had been admitted as "seriously injured 80 per cent of the city without reticulated water 40 per cent of the city without power
$16 billion JP Morgan damage estimate
1000 number of rescuers by this weekend
40 police cordons in the city
1464 NZDF personnel directly supporting the operation
431 people had gone through the Emergency Department 20 people are thought to remain in the pancaked PGC building
- NZ Herald staff, NZPA
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