x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Hopes fade for hundreds missing after Christchurch quake

Death toll from New Zealand quake rises to 98 with fears for many of the 226 missing as hundreds of specialists from around the world fan out to search collapsed buildings.

Rescuers stand at the smoking ruins of the CTV building in Christchurch, New Zealand, where 48 students and staff, including scores of Asian students, are feared buried.
Rescuers stand at the smoking ruins of the CTV building in Christchurch, New Zealand, where 48 students and staff, including scores of Asian students, are feared buried.

CHRISTCHURCH // Hopes faded of finding more survivors yesterday in the collapsed city-centre towers of Christchurch, New Zealand as officials said the death toll rose to 98 with fears for many of the 226 missing.

Police said up to 120 bodies may still lie trapped in the tangled concrete and steel that was the Canterbury Television or CTV building, where dozens of students from Japan, Thailand, China and other Asian countries were believed buried when an English-language school collapsed along with other offices. Twenty-three bodies were pulled from the building yesterday, but not immediately identified.

Rolando Cabunilas, 34, a steel worker from the Philippines, whose wife, Ivy Jane, 33, was on her second day of class at the school when the quake struck, and who has not been heard from since, said: "The longer I don't know what happened, the longer my agony becomes. I can't describe it - it's pain, anger, all emotions."

Officials appealed to families of the missing to be patient, saying the agony could be worse if they rushed the identifications and came to wrong conclusions.

The official death toll from Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude earthquake stood at 98, Police Superintendent Dave Cliff said. An additional 226 people were listed as missing, and Prime Minister John Key said there were "grave fears" that many of them did not survive. Among the dead were two infant boys, one 9 months old, the other 5 months, Superintendant Cliff said. He did not give details of their deaths.

"We are very fearful tonight that the death toll could be much greater than any of us have ever feared," Mr Key said, adding words of concern for the dozens of "international people that are caught up in this tremendous tragedy."

Rescue efforts so far had focused on the CTV building and a handful of other major office complexes that crumbled downtown, but work at those sites was shifting to the recovery of bodies while the remaining rescue efforts fanned out. No new survivors have been found since Wednesday.

The damaged buildings in and around Christchurch numbered in the thousands, including many of the older structures in Lyttelton, a port town just southeast of the city and closer to the quake's epicentre. Residents there wandered through the dusty, brick and glass-covered streets, pausing to offer each other hugs and ask the ubiquitous question: "How's your house?"

Kevin Fitzgerald, 63, a teacher's assistant, said of the quake, which sent him scurrying under a desk along with a student: "It was just horrific. I thought the devil was coming up out of the earth."

In Christchurch, hundreds of foreign specialists from the US, Britain, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan arrived to bolster local police and soldiers and allow teams to broaden their search to smaller buildings.

Teams dressed in blue coveralls and orange helmets and with sniffer dogs moved along city streets lined with one and two-story office buildings, small stores, restaurants and cafes. The brick facades of some had fallen onto sidewalks, and car after car parked at the kerb lay crushed under heavy steel awnings.

At times, a dog would bark and rush excitedly into the rubble, the rescuers following gingerly after them. At one place, they uncovered a body pinned under a huge chunk of concrete.

Mayor Bob Parker said searchers divided the centre of Christchurch into a grid of 114 squares, and did preliminary checks on 60 per cent of them, marked some areas as too dangerous to enter and others as needing more detailed checks later.

Video shot on Tuesday showed rescuers lining a mine-like shaft through the rubble of the Pyne Gould Guinness building, pulling a man, then a woman from between collapsed floors.

A trapped woman, Roslyn Chapman, said of her rescuer: "When I saw his face, right there in front of me I just burst into tears, I was just so, so happy."

There was more misery for the family of Donna Manning, a morning show presenter whose teen-aged children Kent and Lizzy held a vigil outside the CTV building until being told by police Tuesday their mother could not have survived. As they were waiting, their home was robbed, Manning's brother Maurice Gardner told TVNZ.

Mr Key has declared the quake a national disaster, and analysts estimate insurance losses could be as much as $12 billion (Dh44bn).