Quake death toll climbs to 147

IAN STEWARD AND MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 18:51 27/02/2011

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Christchurch earthquake

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The death toll from Tuesday's devastating Christchurch earthquake will be more than 200, police say.

Police superintendent Dave Cliff said there were now 147 people confirmed dead following the 6.3-magnitude quake.

Most, if not all, of those people will be on the police list of missing people, meaning more than 50 people are unaccounted for, Cliff said.

When asked if the death toll was likely to be around 200 Cliff said: "yes, and probably a bit more".

Two more victim's names will be released tomorrow, he said.

Fire Service spokesman Paul Baxter said Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) staff were making steady progress and were about a quarter of the way through clearing buildings within the central business district (CBD) cordon - where a third of buildings have been condemned.

Searchers were "delayering" the rubble, removing it piece by piece in a painstaking process, at the CTV building, where up to 120 people are believed to have died.

Steel tubes had been put into some parts of the ChristChurch Cathedral and teams were crawling through these tubes, pushing small hand-guided diggers in front of them to burrow in.

The tubes offered "really good protection" in the case of further aftershocks, he said.

Rescue specialists were consulting with engineers over the best way to enter the Hotel Grand Chancellor, which was left badly damaged after the quake.

The Fire Service was also dealing with an increased number of car crashes and hazardous substance mishaps and advised people to be cautious when returning to damaged buildings and when using candles and portable cookers.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said the work that search and rescue teams were doing was "psychologically demanding" but the teams were "in good heart".

"They have not given up hope, they are working very hard."

DAMAGE 'LIKE HAITI'

The devastation continues to impede rescue efforts with Key's predecessor, Helen Clark, today saying the damage in central Christchurch was like what she had seen in Haiti following the magnitude 7 quake which killed nearly 230,000 people there last year.

Police said some victims may never be identified due to the level of destruction and the terrible injuries it caused.

Prime Minister John Key said it was "vital we reach as many people throughout the world as possible who want to help. This isn't just New Zealand's tragedy - the February 22 earthquake affected countless people internationally''.

Key had been humbled by the offers of help pouring in from around the world and the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal gave people another means of donating to the recovery effort.

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It was designed to complement those already being run by the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

"It's my intention that the Government will work alongside these organisations to make sure the funds are used in the best possible way."

Key said government departments at home and around the world would be throwing their weight behind the appeal, which was being kicked off with half the proceeds from Saturday's Lotto draw.

He was encouraging New Zealanders to give generously.

Key virtually ruled out a special one-off tax following the quake, but said the EQC levy would rise three-fold.

'IT'S A DEVASTATING SITUATION'

Clark, now head of the United Nations' development programme, toured the city this afternoon as a "private citizen".

"It's a devastating scene. This is Napier and Hastings [earthquakes] plus,'' she said.

"My heart goes out to everybody," Clark said. "So many people are no longer with us, grieving families, people with terrible injuries, people whose livelihoods are destroyed, homes destroyed, it's a devastating situation.''

Clark was in Pakistan when she was alerted to the quake by a text message from Labour MP Darren Hughes.

Her nephew, a Lincoln University student, was in his flat in Riccarton and though the wall of his house collapsed, he was unhurt, she said.

Colleagues at the UN had flooded her with messages of support.

Help from the UN was all but ruled out, with Clark pointing to New Zealand's preparedness, its relative prosperity and the great support it had from its international neighbours.

"New Zealand will get through it."

GRIM TASK

Cliff said 166 police staff were working to help identify victims, but it was possible not all of the dead people would be identified due to the nature of injuries caused by the quake and fires at some sites.

"Where there is intense fire, like at the CTV [Canterbury Television] site, it presents real difficulties.

"I don't want to pre-empt what will happen, but we need to brace ourselves that that possibility does exist. We are not at that point yet, but it is a risk," Cliff said.

He said DNA would be used wherever possible and police hoped to release at least one more victim's name today.

Cliff repeated calls for overseas tourists visiting New Zealand to call home to tell family they were safe. Police believed some of the names of foreigners on the missing list were not actually missing.

He wore a symbolic huia feather to remember a police staff member who was still missing.

Cliff praised the efforts of his staff, saying the biggest problem was "getting them to go home".

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce today said it was believed there were in excess of 60 staff and students missing from the King's Education institute based in the CTV building.

Police have previously said up to 120 people, including CTV staff and those working at a medical centre, were feared trapped inside.

THE RESCUE EFFORT

Baxter said USAR teams had been able to search the buildings in the vicinity of the teetering Hotel Grand Chancellor, which engineers were trying to stabilise.

They also continued to work at the Pyne Gould Corporation (PGC) and Canterbury Television buildings. British teams at the PGC building were having to work around asbestos.

USAR teams were also making slow and careful progress at ChristChurch Cathedral.

Baxter said there had been five fires in the last 24 hours - three were related to power coming back on and people were injured.

Civil Defence and rescue teams had also evacuated residents from the quake-stricken Christchurch suburb of Mt Pleasant overnight.

Twenty-three properties in Bridle Path Road, La Costa Lane, Maffeys Road and McCormacks Bay Road were evacuated due to falling rocks.

Parker said said 6,500 homes had been checked off by search and rescue teams, out of a total of 50,000. He said the number of teams would be doubled on Monday.

It was estimated 62,500 people were still without water, 100,000 had no sewerage services, and 30,000 homes were without power.

Parker said around 100,000 fliers would be issued in Christchurch's damaged eastern suburbs today, containing key contact numbers and information.

Seismic activity had reduced in the area in the past 24 hours, with the number and size of the aftershocks dropping.

Parker urged people to join together today, to attend church services even if they weren't religious, so they could share their experiences with others.

- Stuff and NZPA

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