Christchurch earthquake: After the miracles, a day of gloom

By Derek Cheng

Police dogs being used to search amongst the rubble along Manchester Street, Christchurch. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police dogs being used to search amongst the rubble along Manchester Street, Christchurch. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Yesterday - Day Three - started with a spark of optimism and ended with almost all hope extinguished.

The day after the earthquake was one of miraculous survival. It began with a person, covered in dust, walking out of the back of the crippled PGC building into a startled group of rescue workers who were busy planning the day's strategy.

Three more people were pulled from the rubble to applause that day, finishing with Ann Bodkin's beautiful tale of emerging into the daylight at the exact moment the sun came out.

That was the last sign of life, until a report yesterday morning that someone had made contact with a survivor in the Holy Cross Chapel.

Mayor Bob Parker confirmed it, but it was quickly downgraded to a rumour. A policeman later said it had been a tip from Auckland. The chapel was checked, cleared, and the spark went out.

The language started to change soon after, from talk of "rescue" to "recovery". The texts and cries for help had dried up. The jubilation of the day before was a distant memory.

"We remain hopeful," said Sergeant Grant Lord, officer in charge of the PGC operation, but he added that a night and day of searching - rescuers, police dogs, sonar equipment, heat scanners - had found nothing.

The two bodies his team found yesterday were not moving.

Even the Prime Minister is not expecting more survivors.

"It's not impossible ... [but] in some of those buildings, no one could have survived.

"As every day goes by, we keep looking for good news, but we're struggling to find any."

At Civil Defence headquarters, the media scrum has swelled. What is the latest death toll? How many are still without power?

But a visit to the CTV building - its five storeys flattened into a smouldering slab entombing up to 120 people - brings home the fact that this is not about statistics. It is a human tragedy.

Beside Christchurch Cathedral are enormous stone blocks that once made up the towering spire. The viewing platform is no more.

The huge one-tonne bronze bells - more than a dozen of them - that rang out through the city have fallen.

The square, a scene of panic and mayhem on Tuesday, is deathly quiet and empty, but for rescue workers and toppled statues. On the outskirts are collapsed building facades, broken glass, debris.

To look at the destruction in the city centre and to know that people lost their lives here is heartbreaking, even to visitors to the city who have lost nothing.

- NZ Herald

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