Parker: Don't take RWC away
Christchurch is ''utterly'' committed to holding its Rugby World Cup matches, despite the damage wreaked on the city by last week's earthquake, Mayor Bob Parker says.
Questions have been raised about whether the city will be able to host the event, given predictions that it may take months to get essential services up and running following last week's 6.3-magnitude quake.
Christchurch is scheduled to host five pool games and two quarterfinals in the Cup which begins on September 9.
When asked at a press conference how confident he was Christchurch would still be able to host those games, in the wake of the devastation caused by the 6.3 magnitude quake on February 22, Mr Parker replied: ''Utterly, absolutely, totally committed to that''.
He said he had conveyed that to Prime Minister John Key, who had given his support, and to all the relevant ministers.
''I have conveyed to them that the citizens of this city will be far from pleased if they miss out on an event that has taken on a different meaning to the people of Christchurch and the people of Canterbury.
''We have to be pragmatic and realistic and accommodation is one of the issues that is concerning us. AMI Stadium is going to be fine for the Rugby World Cup and we are determined to make it happen here in Christchurch.''
Mr Key said yesterday there was still a chance Christchurch would host its games.
''My strong preference is to hold the Cup in Christchurch if we can, because I think it sends a very strong international message that Christchurch is going through a rebuilding phase, and equally, if we don't, sadly the message is it's not.''
Mr Parker said today it would be some months before the central business district (CBD) of Christchurch would reopen.
''You can see with the level of damage that we have in the CBD that it is going to be some months before it is going to be reopened. However, in terms of putting a timeline on what that is, we just don't have information at this stage.''
A lot of planning work needed to be done, but he hoped to be able to give a time within the next few weeks.
The death toll from the quake rose by one today, to 161, after a body was retrieved from the Pyne Gould building. Police expect the toll to reach 240 by the time all bodies are recovered.
However, they are still treating their searches as a rescue mission, citing incidents overseas where people have been rescued alive after 10 days.
''Officially, yes, this is still a rescue operation...overseas it is not unusual to pull people alive after 10 days,'' Superintendent Russell Gibson told Radio New Zealand.
The names of two Israelis who were killed in the quake were officially released today.
They were Ofir Levy and Gabi Ingel.
Mr Key said an Israeli search and rescue group organised by their families was refused entry to the cordon because it was not United Nations-accredited and because it was felt there were enough rescue teams at work.
The bodies of Mr Levy and Ms Ingel and that of a third Israeli citizen have been returned to Israel.
Deteriorating weather whipped up dust storms around Christchurch yesterday hampering search and rescue efforts, but the wind eased last night allowing significant progress to be made at the Christ Church Cathedral, Mr Gibson said.
''They've now started taking away beams and things from the bell tower, so we are at last going to see some movement in that area.''
In London an estimated 2500 New Zealanders gathered at a service in Westminister Cathedral today (NZ time) to pay tribute to those killed in the quake.
A message from Mr Key was read and New Zealander Hayley Westenra sang the national anthem.