New Zealand earthquake toll rises to 145

2011-02-26 09:58

Christchurch – New Zealand’s premier said the quake might be the country’s worst disaster in history, as officials raised the toll today to 145 dead and more than 200 missing while giving a grim prognosis for the city’s downtown.

Engineers and planners said the city’s decimated central area may be completely unusable for months to come and at least a third of the buildings must be razed and rebuilt after last Tuesday’s 6.3 magnitude quake.

On the outer edge of the central district, Brent Smith watched in tears as workers demolished the 1850s-era building where he lived and ran a bed and breakfast, and where antique jugs and a $6 000 (R42 121) Victorian bed were reduced to shards and firewood.

His three daughters hugged him, weeping.

“You don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I’ve been doing more of the latter,” Smith said.

Prime Minister John Key said the government would announce an aid package on Monday for an estimated 50 000 people who would be out of work for months due to the closure of downtown.

Key, who spent some of the afternoon talking to families who lost loved ones in the disaster, called for two minutes of silence next Tuesday to remember both the victims and the ordeal of the survivors.

“This may be New Zealand’s most tragic event,” Key said.

The death toll rose to 145 after additional bodies were pulled from the wreckage, Police Superintendent David Cliff said.

He said there was an additional list of more than 200 people and there were “grave fears” about their fate.

His comments suggest the eventual death toll could make this New Zealand’s deadliest disaster ever.

Currently, the country’s worst disaster was the 1931 Napier earthquake on North Island in which at least 256 people died.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker assured relatives of the missing, including people from several countries who have converged on this southern New Zealand city of 350 000, that every effort was being made to locate any remaining survivors.

Rescue and recovery efforts were hampered by continuing aftershocks, which sent masonry tumbling down, and a cat sparked a false alarm over a possible survivor.

No one was found alive overnight as a multinational team of more than 600 rescuers scoured the city’s central district, although a paramedic reported hearing voices in one destroyed building early today, said Police Superintendent Russel Gibson.

“We mobilised a significant number of people and sent a dog in again, and a cat jumped out,” Gibson said, adding that a rescue team removed “a significant amount of rubble to be 100%” certain that no person was trapped inside.

Police have said up to 120 bodies might be entombed in the ruins of the downtown CTV building alone, where dozens of foreign students from an international school were believed trapped.

Still, Gibson said rescuers weren’t completely ruling out good news.

“I talked to experts who say we’ve worked on buildings like this overseas and we get miracles. New Zealand deserves a few miracles,” he said.

The King’s Education language school released a list of missing people presumed in the building: nine teachers and 51 students – 26 Japanese, 14 Chinese, six Filipinos, three Thais, one South Korean and one Czech.

An additional 20 students were listed with “status unknown”.

The city’s central business district would take several months to recover, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said, adding that “most of the services, in fact all of the services that are offered in the CBD, will need to relocate elsewhere”.

Damaged buildings will need to be bulldozed and rebuilt “so that people can have confidence about coming back into the area to transact any business that’s here”.

One in three of the central city’s buildings were severely damaged in the quake and must be demolished, said earthquake engineer Jason Ingham.

In one neighbourhood, the Butcher family spent today retrieving a handful of salvageable belongings from their destroyed house. They’re staying with friends, but hope to buy a caravan.

Maree Butcher, 49, said she found herself shaking awake with memories of Tuesday’s horror every night around 3.30am. She lies in bed and stares at her husband, Norm, who was nearly killed racing out the back door of their home as the brick walls blew out around him and the top floor collapsed to the ground.

Norm tried to cheer her up, nodding towards the wreckage and saying, “I really did want the open entertainment area”.

Maree smiled. “We’ve lost our house and belongings,” she said. “But we’re still alive.”

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.