Rescuers will do everything humanly possible to find any survivors of Tuesday's destructive Christchurch earthquake, say police.

So far, 76 bodies had been recovered and taken to a temporary morgue, but that number would certainly climb, Canterbury District Commander Superintendent Dave Cliff said.

All focus was currently on finding survivors.

"This is very much an operation around rescue, it's looking for the living.

"If we find a body but we can't recover it quickly, we will carry on."

The list of the missing was 238, he said.

"But we are conscious of the fact that many of those would have just left town."

A small list of people missing "in a concerning way" would be released about 4pm today.

There was no possibility of anyone being found alive from the Canterbury TV or Cathedral buildings, he said.

Mr Cliff 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."

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.

Police Minister Judith Collins this afternoon labelled the wreckage of the CTV building a scene of "utter devastation".

She hailed the bravery of those searching through its rubble and the collapsed Pyne Gould Corporation building.

"I had never seen anything like it. It's so bad.

"And yet we've got our rescue people working there - putting their lives at risk."

Rescuers found several more bodies at the collapsed building today.

A large team of Japanese searchers earlier today entered the site with dogs and several bodies were 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.

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.

Meanwhile, 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.

The numbers

76 dead

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