Unidentified victims of the Christchurch earthquake are set to be formally pronounced dead at an inquest announced by the Chief Coroner today.

Remains of nine earthquake dead - thought to be from the fire-hit CTV building - have not been identified despite months of work by Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) teams.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said he would use circumstantial evidence to register those deaths and issue death certificates in the inquest at Riccarton Park racecourse from May 16 to 18.

However, he would could still consider new information on the deaths that came to light after the inquest, he said.

"The DVI team has done a remarkable job in getting this far and identifying more than 95 percent of the victims.

"Now we've come to a point where some families are facing a worst case scenario where no trace will be found of their loved ones so we need to find a way forward for them."

The current earthquake toll is 181 victims, including 166 who were identified through the DVI process and six who were visually identified at Christchurch Hospital.

A further four deaths which may have been earthquake related have also been reported to the coroner.

The nine unidentified victims are:

Matthew Lyle Beaumont, 31, of Christchurch
Jinyan Leng, 30, of China
Shawn Lucas, 40, of Christchurch
Rhea Mae Sumalpong, 25, of the Philippines
Elsa Torres De Frood, 53, of Peru
Valeri Volnov, 41, of Russia
Xiujuan Xu, 47, of China
Didi Zhang, 23, of China
Xiaoli Zhou, 26, of China

Four of the nine were New Zealand citizens and five were overseas residents.

Earlier speculation was that the unidentified remains were to be cremated or buried together, similar to what occurred after the 1979 Mt Erebus air crash disaster, when 257 people were killed.

But Justice Maclean said all families will be able to decide - together with Goverment and the community - what happens to the remains of their loved ones.

"It will be some time before any decision is made on what will happen to the remains. That is a decision for other parties, including families, Government and the community. I just have to be satisfied that there is no good reason to retain control of the remains and that they are being releasing in accordance with the wishes of families."

Where the Christchurch earthquake dead were found:

CTV building - 116
PGC building - 18
Buses - 7
Other CBD locations - 29
Other suburbs - 11