Hope Dims for Survivors of N. Zealand Quake


New Zealand rescuers refused to give up the hunt for quake survivors on Thursday, despite hope fading for hundreds feared trapped two days after a disaster that has killed nearly 100.

Emergency officials gave the grim news that they could find no signs of life in the wreckage of office towers, churches and homes after the 6.3-magnitude tremor laid waste to central Christchurch and some of its suburbs.

“All over the world when we see disasters like this, we see miracle stories of people being pulled out, days and in some cases weeks after the event,” Prime Minister John Key told TV3.

“That does not mean that there can’t and won’t be people trapped in buildings,” he said. “We can’t give up hope, but we also need to be realistic.”

Police said 98 bodies had been retrieved from the rubble and 226 people were listed as missing. “We’re gravely concerned about those individuals,” district commander Dave Cliff told reporters.

Rescuers ruled out anyone being found alive at the collapsed CTV building, which housed a TV station and a busy language school for foreign students, and where as many as 120 people may have perished.

They also abandoned hope of finding survivors at Christchurch’s landmark cathedral, which lost its spire and where up to 22 people could be buried.

Police released the first names of quake victims, listing four people including two babies aged five months and nine months.

But police insisted hundreds of search specialists including foreign teams, with sniffer dogs, purpose-built cameras and listening devices, were still focused on finding survivors, some 24 hours after last finding anyone alive.

“It’s possible in some cases there may be people trapped in the rubble,” Cliff said.

“If people are alive and trapped we’re doing everything humanly possible, with a huge range of people from right around the world, who are focused on that possibility.”

Hundreds crowded Christchurch’s airport, desperate for a flight out of the city of 390,000.

“It’s crazy, nerve-wracking, my nerves are just… I’ve just been shaking all day, I haven’t eaten,” said Vanessa Burgess, who was camped out at the terminal with her two young children.

Australian, British, American, Taiwanese and Singaporean teams are helping about 500 New Zealand rescuers comb several sites and fan out to devastated suburbs.

Up to 30 people were rescued on the first night but only a handful emerged from the wreckage on Wednesday.

Managing to get through to the Seven Network on her mobile phone, Anne Vos had gripped millions of TV viewers with her account of being trapped in the mangled Pyne Gould office building before she was rescued late Wednesday.

“I’m hoping they are going to get me out soon because I have been here for so long and it’s dark and horrible,” Vos, who was recovering in hospital Thursday, had said.

Police Minister Judith Collins said she had seen one corpse retrieved from the Pyne Gould building on Thursday.

“It was just a scene of utter devastation, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Collins said of the wrecked central business district.

“If you saw it on a movie screen you would have thought somebody was just making it up, it was so bad.”

The language school based in the six-storey CTV building, which was razed to the ground, said 48 students and staff were missing or unaccounted for, listing a further 42 as “status unknown”.

The majority of the students were Asian, with Japan’s foreign ministry saying at least 26 of its citizens who had attended the school were missing.

“This is not just New Zealand’s tragedy, it is an international tragedy that is touching the lives of thousands around the world,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said.

Japanese search-and-rescue experts were on the scene and combing the CTV site in the shadow of the listing, 26-storey Grand Chancellor Hotel, Christchurch’s tallest building, which is at risk of collapse.

Power has been restored to much of the city, but many people remain without water. Thousands of residents, rattled by numerous minor shocks in recent months, have fled to stay with friends and relatives elsewhere.

Hundreds of homeless people are staying at one city shelter, while officials organised a food hand-out in one of the damaged suburbs.

Christchurch was hit by a major 7.0-magnitude earthquake in September, which damaged 100,000 buildings but miraculously caused no deaths. New Zealand has not suffered such a disaster since 256 people died in a 1931 quake.

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