Half city's heritage buildings at risk

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Cashel Mall in Christchurch after the February 22 earthquake. Photo / Simon Baker
Cashel Mall in Christchurch after the February 22 earthquake. Photo / Simon Baker

Half of Christchurch's heritage buildings are in danger of demolition after assessments showing they have severe earthquake damage.

Civil Defence national controller John Hamilton told a media conference this morning that 1000 heritage buildings had been assessed, with 50 per cent receiving red stickers.

Red stickers mean the buildings have been badly damaged and are unsafe for entry.

A total 56,000 properties have received building assessments in the wake of last week's Christchurch earthquake.

Mr Hamilton said of the 3000 buildings assessed in the city centre, 45 per cent had received red stickers.

Another 1350 homes, many in the city's eastern suburbs, had been assessed as having severe damage.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the Earthquake Commission had received 31,000 claims for property damage suffered in the earthquake.

They were in addition to the 181,107 damage claims from the original 7.1 earthquake in September that had been logged by February 17.

Search and rescue crews found two more bodies overnight, lifting the death toll to 163. Police expect the toll to reach 220.

Police Superintendent Sam Hoyle told media 241 disaster victim identification staff from all over the world were working incredibly long days to identify the deceased.

Mr Hoyle said staff were very conscious of the importance of their task.

"We absolutely are aware that we cannot make it better for these families - but we can make it worse," he said.

Sections of the cordoned off area of the Christchurch city centre will be opened up this weekend.

Fire Service spokesman Paul Baxter said the south-west corner of the cordon around the centre of Christchurch would be lifted on Sunday afternoon.

Mayor Parker said further extensions to the accessible area would be announced from Monday.

It was vital that businesses could able to get back into the city centre as soon as possible, he said.

"It's absolutely necessary they are able to get up and running again."

Mayor Parker said water had been restored to 75 per cent of Christchurch houses, but he said the city's waste water system was proving difficult to repair and little progress had been made.

He commended those working on the infrastructure damaged in last week's devastating earthquake.

Earlier, Mayor Parker proposed opening a safe walkway through the city's devastated CBD to allow residents to grieve following last week's earthquake.

Mayor Parker said he had spoken to Civil Defence, the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams, and the Fire Service about opening the walkway in the next couple of weeks.

Mayor Parker said he would also like to hold a day of remembrance.

"Perhaps it (the day) can start with a remembrance service in Hagley Park and a silent procession into the city as part of the grieving process.

"We need to have that opportunity to remember, to grieve not only for the people that we have lost, but also for those buildings that are part of the story of our lives."

Searchers are expected to enter the collapsed spire of quake-ravaged Christchurch Cathedral today, where up to 22 people are believed to have been killed. The team will start clearing debris as they search for victims.

Jim Stuart-Black, head of the USAR teams, yesterday said despite the change in focus from recovery to recovery of bodies, buildings would still be treated as if there were survivors in them.

The teams would work carefully with heavy machinery to slowly start clearing debris from all the streets, checking as they go.

They would take apart damaged buildings in a controlled and careful manner, Mr Stuart-Black said.

"We cannot ever rule out the possibility, however small, of a miracle survivor and all sites will be treated accordingly. However, we need to be realistic and we need to help families through what is now a grim reality."

Prime Minister John Key said a national memorial service would be held in Christchurch within weeks.

"All of us held on to hope there would be a miracle, but sadly today's announcement confirms that we must now confront the permanence of that loss," he said yesterday.

Up to 100 of the victims could be from as many as 20 countries. The collapsed Canterbury TV building contained dozens of foreign language students at the private training school King's Education.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said every assistance possible would be given to their families.

The names of two Israelis who were killed in the quake were officially released yesterday.

They were Ofer Levy, 22, and Gabi Moshe Ingel, 23.

The bodies of Mr Levy, Mr Ingel and a third Israeli citizen have been returned to Israel.

- NZPA and NZHERALD STAFF

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