N.Z. quake rescue hopes dwindle

Rescue efforts are expected to soon switch to recovery efforts in Christchurch, New Zealand, following a powerful earthquake that left at least 98 people dead and many more missing.

Earthquake death toll at least 98, with more than 226 missing

Rescue efforts are expected to soon switch to recovery efforts in Christchurch, N.Z., following a powerful earthquake that left at least 98 people dead and many more missing.

No one has been found alive in more than 24 hours.

"The police are saying that they are still rescuing people, that's their aim at this point," Kim Chisnall of New Zealand's TV3 told anchor Wendy Mesley on Wednesday's edition of The National.

"So what they're doing is going through looking for any signs of life. But it is looking increasingly unlikely they're going to find someone."

Buildings are becoming extremely unsafe due to aftershocks that are occurring every couple of hours, Chisnall said.

"Every one of those potentially puts the lives of those rescue staff in danger," she said.

Authorities have said the death toll is sure to rise. No survivors have been found since 2 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

Superintendent Dave Cliff told reporters Thursday that police had been notified that 98 people were dead and that 226 people were missing.

Up to 120 bodies may be buried in the rubble of the Canterbury Television building, Cliff said, including some foreign students who were attending an English-language school that was located in the building.

About 2,500 people have been injured. 

Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake toppled tall buildings, damaged homes, offices and schools, and left parts of the city littered with debris.

Some survivors were pulled from the wreckage in Christchurch with barely a scratch, freelance reporter Phil Mercer said.

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Friends and relatives seeking information on Canadian citizens believed to be in the affected areas should contact the Emergency Operations Centre at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade by calling 1-800-387-3124 or 613-996-8885. They may also send an email to

He said others had limbs amputated before they could be pulled from tangled masses of concrete and steel.

Rescue workers have used floodlights, sound detectors, sniffer dogs and thermal imaging equipment to search crumbled buildings.

New Zealand's civil defence and emergency management service said "a large number of people have been pulled alive from collapsed buildings," but officials noted that it would likely take days to complete the rescue work.

By Thursday afternoon, there were 300 international search and rescue workers from four different countries — Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan — in Christchurch. More than 100 additional search and rescue workers from the United States and Britain were expected to arrive by Friday.

Sections of the city of 350,000 are in ruins, and police are enforcing a nighttime curfew in a cordoned-off area of downtown to keep people away from dangerous buildings and prevent crime.

Anyone on the streets after 6:30 p.m. will be arrested, police said.

Authorities said 75 per cent of the city Christchurch was expected to have electricity returned on Thursday night, but it could take weeks before power is returned to the other 25 per cent. More than half the city is without water. Officials have advised people to try to conserve their supply and to boil water before drinking it.

Support centres that provide food, water and blankets have been established around the city to help people displaced by the quake, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Joe Morgan, a freelance reporter and videographer, said many buildings were damaged and several structures were hanging on "by a thread."

"There's a 23-storey building in the city that is very, very close to collapse," he said. "Every time there's an aftershock in the area, officials have to pull everybody out of the area."

At least 20 people are believed to have died amid the rubble of the devastated Christchurch Cathedral.

The prime minister has declared a national state of emergency as hundreds of soldiers, police and other emergency workers — including specialist teams from the U.S. and other countries — rushed to Christchurch to help with the search.

Key surveyed the damage in a helicopter, saying on Twitter that it was "devastating."

The immediate focus was on about a dozen buildings downtown where finding survivors was still a possibility. In other places, rubble was being left untouched — even if bodies were thought buried there — until the urgency of the survivor search passes.

Foreign students could be among dead

The New Zealand Herald said at least one woman was pulled out of the rubble more than 24 hours after the quake. Ann Bodkin was one of a dozen workers trapped inside the Pyne Gould Corporation building, She lay on her side, sheltered in a small space amid huge concrete slabs until rescuers finally managed to pull her free.

"You always hope," her husband Graham Richardson told the Herald. "Getting her out is just stupendous. I obviously feel for all the other people waiting to hear."

But police had grim concerns for another building.

Authorities called off rescue operations at the Canterbury Television building on Wednesday.

"We don't believe this site is now survivable," Dave Lawry, a police operations commander inspector, told reporters, adding the tower of the building that remains standing is in danger of collapse, weakened by quake aftershocks and fire.

"At a certain point, I'm not going to risk my staff [searching] for people who I believe have no chance of survivability," he said. "That's the end of it."

TV journalist Emily Cooper had been out of the building on a story when the quake struck.

"You could see buildings swaying immediately after the impact," she told CBC News. "I just started to drive back into the city and the streets were flooded and I couldn't get through." 

She said she kicked her shoes off and ran through the mud to get to the TV building.

"I was stopped by a man who told me the building had collapsed," she said. "But that was hard to believe so I kept running and came to the building and it was very, very tough."

Many of her colleagues are buried in the rubble and are believed to be dead.

Police earlier said more than 20 people had been rescued from the building and others had managed to escape. That search was now over.

"The sad fact is we're removing resources from this site to other sites where there is a higher chance of survivability," Lawry said.

Rescue workers are seen at the collapsed CTV building that housed the King's Education School, where missing Japanese students are believed to be trapped. ((Kyodo/Reuters))

Near the smouldering remains of the building, brother and sister Kent and Lizzy Manning sat on a rain-sodden patch of grass waiting for news of their mother, Donna, a morning TV host who they hadn't heard from since the quake.

"My mum is superwoman; she'd do anything," 18-year-old Lizzy said, tears running down her face.

At that moment, a police official knelt down beside the pair. "I have some horrible news ...," she began. There was no hope for anyone trapped in the building.

The quake struck just before 1 p.m. local time on Tuesday, when the city was thronging with workers, tourists and shoppers. The quake was not as powerful as a magnitude 7.1 temblor that struck before dawn on Sept. 4 that damaged buildings but caused no fatalities.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said there have been more than 110 aftershocks since Tuesday's quake and the damage has been estimated to be as high as $16 billion, double the bill of the quake that hit Christchurch in September.

New Zealand sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through the South Pacific, which records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year. (CBC)

With files from The Associated Press