Anxious vigil in NZ for the missing

Hopes fade of finding more survivors as the Christchurch earthquake death toll climbs to 113.

    Al Jazeera's Tania Page reports from the quake-shattered city of Christchurch

    Hopes are fading of finding more survivors in Christchurch, New Zealand's second biggest city, after an earthquake killed at least 113 people and left more than 300 missing.

    Relatives of people still missing three days after the quake arrived on Friday from several countries to join an anxious vigil for news that looked increasingly likely to be grim.

    Officials have also said that rescue teams had pulled nothing but bodies from the rubble of collapsed buildings for 48 hours.

    Murray McCully, the foreign minister, said the government was preparing to give family members from several countries "the worst type of news".

    Three days after the 6.3-magnitude earthquake flattened buildings in Christchurch, police said there had been no communication with people trapped inside the rubble, reducing the chances of finding survivors.

    However, despite fading hopes of finding any more people alive and fears that a damaged 26-storey hotel tower could collapse and trigger a new disaster, international rescuers intensified their search for survivors.

    Teams from quake-prone countries such as Japan and the US sent in sniffer dogs and lowered microphones into rubble to probe for signs of life on Thursday.

    Recovery of bodies

    Officials insisted that the massive effort involving more than 700 specialist teams from New Zealand and a host of other countries was a search and rescue operation, though they conceded it has turned more to the recovery of bodies.

    "We are still hopeful that there still may be people rescued but it's getting less and less likely,'' John Carter, the civil defence minister,  told reporters.

    On Friday, work teams began picking through the piles of crumbled stone of the iconic Christchurch Cathedral, where the spire tower collapsed and where officials have said up to 22 bodies may lay entombed.

    Officials from the Christchurch city council said workers started removing loose masonry from the site to allow recovery teams in to retrieve the bodies.

    The Hotel Grand Chancellor, another city emblem, had stopped moving on its foundations and was no longer in danger of imminent collapse, according to the civil defence ministry.

    Officials have said the badly listing building is beyond repair and will have to be demolished.

    Al Jazeera's Tania Page, reporting from Christchurch's business district, said the centre of the city was a "restricted zone".

    Rescue teams had worked through a second night under floodlights, but found only bodies. They still hoped for a
    miracle, along with distraught onlookers awaiting news.

    A rare moment of good news was met with applause on Wednesday when a woman wrapped in blankets was dug out from a finance company building, some 24 hours after the quake.  
    Clock ticking

    The clock is ticking for those still trapped, with John Hamilton, New Zealand's emergency management chief, saying rescuers may have just two or three days to pull out anyone still alive.

    More than 100 aftershocks have brought down more debris. Roads have buckled and large pools of water have welled up from broken pipes and sewers.

    Investment bank, JP Morgan, estimates the quake could cost insurers $12bn, while catastrophe modelling firm AIR
    Worldwide Estimates says the insurance industry faces claims of $3.5bn to $8.6bn.

    John Key, the prime minister, reshuffled his cabinet on Thursday to allow a senior minister to focus on the country's worst natural disaster in 80 years [256 people died in a 1931 tremor].

    Officials said fresh teams from Taiwan, Australia and Singapore, were due to join the Japanese and American specialist teams already on the ground, to assist the expanded search of a 3sq km area littered with flattened buildings.

    More than 1,000 workers were expected to comb though shattered buildings, with the city divided into search grids.

    New Zealand sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a vast zone of seismic and volcanic activity stretching from Chile on one side to Japan and Indonesia on the other.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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