Christchurch earthquake: Hopes fade as brave rescuers push on

By David Fisher, Andrew Koubaridis, Bevan Hurley, Paul Harper

Police forensic teams study the Canterbury Television building that collapsed during the earthquake. Photo / Doug Sherring
Police forensic teams study the Canterbury Television building that collapsed during the earthquake. Photo / Doug Sherring

Identification has been difficult due some victims suffering "horrendous injuries" in Tuesday's earthquake, district commander Superintendent Dave Cliff says.

The death toll is now 146, with more than 200 people were still missing.

Mr Cliff wore a huia feather on his uniform at this morning media conference to signify the death of a police colleague

He hoped to release the name of at least one more victim today.

"It is important to understand some victims suffered horrendous injuries and identification is very difficult."

Recovery work continues at the Christchurch Cathedral this morning, with Urban Search and Rescue Teams crawling through large steel tubes to remove debris in the quest to find around 20 bodies believed to have been buried after Tueday's earthquake.

The largest search and rescue brigade ever assembled in New Zealand continues to toil in vain as hopes have plummeted for the 200 still missing after the Christchurch earthquake.

At the CTV and Pyne Gould buildings, "delayering" of the buildings will continue today. This work is expected to take a "considerable time", a fire service spokesperson said, as it involves removing debris "piece by piece, slowly and carefully".

A platform has been established at the PGC site to allow the use of "heavy lift equipment" to help remove debris.

The Grand Chancellor building has been safety-assessed and USAR teams have early this morning begun searching surrounding buildings.

At the Cathedral, progress with removing debris has continued overnight, using appliances supplied by local contractors. USAR teams have inserted large steel tubes into some parts of the cathedral and are crawling through these tubes, pushing small hand-guided diggers in front of them to burrow in. From there, they are creating safe havens for themselves as they work outwards from these for further searching.

Outside the cathedral, steelwork is being used to stabilise the front section where the New Zealand USAR team is working.

Unfortunately there have been no signs of life, with the last live rescue on Wednesday 3pm.

Mayor Bob Parker said although it is a Sunday the operation is "just as intense ... just as committed".

"Our thoughts are with the families of those that have been identified as deceased and those still missing."

Orion has restored power to 82 per cent of their customers across the city and hoped to have 95 per cent restored within the next week.

For the families of the missing, despair turned to anger, and Mr Parker yesterday said "serious questions" needed to be asked about why the CTV and PGG buildings had collapsed. "The time for looking for [those] answers is coming," he said.

Last night the family of Owen Wright, killed when an aftershock dislodged a boulder in the Port Hills, told the Herald on Sunday they had been denied the return of his body even though they have formally identified him.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor visited the devastated CTV site yesterday - where up to 120 people are feared dead - and admitted police and other government agencies would need to "write a new script" in response to the disaster.

"I think it would be a good idea if every MP and senior bureaucrat and every senior decision-maker in New Zealand gets down here over the next two weeks because you just can't get a sense of it unless you're here."

Almost 90 hours have passed since Ann Bodkin was pulled from the PGC building - the last person to emerge alive from the rubble.

An army of more than 700 search and rescue workers and medics from seven countries remain on standby to assist the rescue effort. The death toll climbed to 145 and a police officer was assigned to assist every grieving family.

Superintendent Dave Cliff said a number of the dead had suffered "very bad" injuries that made it difficult to identify them. Dental records and DNA would be needed to complete the process and ensure the right body was returned, he said.

Cliff said he was aware of concerns from families about the length of time it was taken to confirm the identity of the victims, but the disaster victim identification team was going as fast as it could.

The mystery of Shane Tomlin, whose blackened face appeared in the world's media as he was carried from the ruins of the Trocadero bakery, took a sombre turn yesterday with family members providing DNA to police in an attempt to find him - dead or alive.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the cost of rebuilding the city would soar past $10 billion. Christchurch's CBD will remain closed for months and one-third of the city's buildings are expected to be condemned.

An 1850s Christchurch bed and breakfast was demolished yesterday morning as the family that had lived inside looked on in tears.

At Cathedral Square the giant Rugby World Cup countdown clock is blank.

The threat of illnesses such as measles and diarrhoea caused the closure of a makeshift welfare centre, but stomach flu remained the most likely illness, said Civil Defence.

Once the search for victims of the earthquake was over, the central business district would be cleared to make it safe, said Brownlee.

Workers moved in last night to begin stabilising the area around the stricken Hotel Grand Chancellor to allow searchers into the building.

Attempts to brace the building yesterday were hampered by continuing aftershocks. Police said they had no reason to believe there was anyone in the hotel or the immediate area.

Prime Minister John Key called for two minutes' silence at 12.51pm on Tuesday to mark the passing of one week since the quake. "This may be New Zealand's single most tragic event," he said.

The grim task of burying the victims will begin tomorrow, when 5-month-old Baxtor Gowland will be farewelled. Baxtor was born just 13 days after the last year's quake.

The HMNZS Canterbury is due to sail to Wellington from Lyttelton today with supplies.

- Herald on Sunday

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