Christchurch earthquake: Now we need a miracle

John Frood can only wait for the body of his wife of 30 years to be recovered. Photo / Sarah Ivey
John Frood can only wait for the body of his wife of 30 years to be recovered. Photo / Sarah Ivey

After 218 hours and nine minutes of desperate searching, hope of finding any survivors among the rubble of downtown Christchurch was officially extinguished.

"Sadly, there comes a point where response must shift from rescue to recovery and regrettably, we have reached that point," Civil Defence head John Hamilton said at 3pm yesterday.

"There is no chance anyone could have survived this long ... but we cannot rule out the possibility of a miracle survivor.

"However, we must be realistic."

Mr Hamilton said Urban Search and Rescue teams had worked tirelessly for more than a week amid aftershocks, searching in extremely hazardous conditions for survivors.

The official death toll is 161, and officials believe it could reach 220.

More than 100 of the dead are from 20 other countries.

The grim announcement at a press conference attended by scores of international reporters was difficult for families of the missing to accept.

Last night, John Frood said all he could hope for now was the return of the body of his wife of nearly 30 years, Elsa, who is in the rubble of the Canterbury Television building.

"I kind of knew right from that first day when I was watching the CTV building on the ground level and burning. I knew it was it.

"The girls [the couple's twin daughters, Karen and Michelle, 28] have been hoping.

"I suppose most people would have been too, so yes they were, they were hoping that a miracle would happen. But of course as each day goes past, it's more unlikely, isn't it?

"We're just hoping we can have her remains identified and returned, that's all ...

"They're just pulling one out at a time and we've just got to hope that it's our one next."

The last of the 70 people pulled alive from the rubble was Ann Bodkin, on Wednesday last week.

Ms Bodkin, rescued after 26 hours trapped in the collapsed Pyne Gould Corporation building, said she felt guilty about being the last survivor.

"I do find it extraordinary that no one else was recovered, and that makes me and our family very lucky.

"We've thought about that and feel kind of guilty because our hearts go out to the dozens of families who haven't had the same outcome.

"And then for them to be waiting for a week and then to find out [it's now a recovery mission], it must be absolutely heartbreaking."

When Tracy Blackadder heard what had happened to the CTV building, she went there to wait for her sister to walk out.

Amanda Uriao, known as Mandy, worked at the television station.

"I waited to bring her home," Mrs Blackadder said. "I hoped to bring her home. But of course, I couldn't."

Mrs Blackadder said hope had turned to grief for the family as they came to the realisation that Mrs Uriao was never coming home.

"We anticipate we're not going to be able to have a funeral for Mandy. She probably perished in the fire. It's something we're coming to terms with."

An emotional Mayor Bob Parker repeated the words "transition from rescue to recovery" at yesterday's press conference.

"Those were the words that nobody in this city, none of the families, none of the friends here and overseas ... wanted to hear."

Mr Parker said the goal was to reunite everyone who was missing with their families.

"These are still our people and the people who came from overseas to study, those young people, they are still our children, and the visitors who came to relax and enjoy this country, they're still our guests.

"Until we have accounted for each of them and treated each of them with dignity and in the most appropriate way possible, there will be no lessening of effort at all.

"We will continue to hold hope that there is a still a miracle out there."

The head of the Urban Search and Rescue operation, Jim Stuart-Black, said badly damaged buildings and debris would be cleared as if they still contained survivors.

"People are handled like family members, with care and respect, as they are removed safely."

Prime Minister John Key said New Zealanders knew that the chance of those caught in the tragedy being still alive had grown slimmer over each of the previous nine days

"But all of us held on to hope there would be a miracle. Sadly, today's announcement confirms we must now confront the permanence of that loss."

- Staff reporters

- NZ Herald

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