Searchers in earthquake-devastated Christchurch returned overnight to the Canterbury TV building where up to 100 people are feared lost, but are now looking to recover bodies rather than rescue survivors, police say.
On Thursday morning, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key stressed that the death toll of 75 is likely to rise, and the country must brace itself, stuff.co.nz reported.
The confirmed toll from Tuesday’s lunchtime 6.3-magnitude quake still stands at 75, with 300 reported missing but police expect the death toll to climb.
Police yesterday said the destruction of the CTV building was “unsurvivable” and Canterbury police district commander Superintendent Dave Cliff gave the estimates of between 80 and more than 100 for those missing inside.
Rescue work at the site had been halted by safety concerns yesterday but police spokeswoman Sarah Kennett said it was now a recovery operation rather than a rescue effort.
Fifteen CTV staff, four Filipino nurses and a number of Japanese students from a foreign language school that operated in the building are believed to be among those in the rubble.
No more survivors had been discovered in the central city since Ann Bodkin was rescued from the Pyne Gould Corporation building about 2.30pm yesterday, after being trapped for 26 hours.
Meanwhile, the 70m-high Hotel Grand Chancellor, one of the city’s tallest buildings, remained standing overnight, despite a number of aftershocks, including a 4.1 magnitude shake just after midnight.
Reports yesterday said the hotel had slumped in one corner, prompting fears that should it collapse it could destroy surrounding buildings.
Twenty-two people are believed by police to have died in the collapse of Christchurch Cathedral. Police dogs had been through the area of the 130-year-old city landmark and police were confident there were no survivors there.
Overnight the central city was under curfew and was quiet apart from rescue efforts, Ms Kennett said.
The government yesterday declared a national state of emergency for the first time, following what Prime Minister John Key described as the “death and destruction on a dreadful scale” of the quake.
Mr Key flew back to Wellington from Christchurch late last night and is due to hold his first earthquake media briefing at 7.30am today before going into another emergency cabinet meeting.
Before leaving Christchurch he said ministers would discuss financial help for those affected by the earthquake.
“We will be moving into looking at packages for businesses, employees and those who will be struggling to make ends meet,” he told reporters.
He said that up to now the focus had been on rescue and recovery, and repairing core services as quickly as possible.
“But very quickly people are going to have to address the issue that they have outgoings,” he said.
“They don’t have jobs to go to, businesses can’t reopen and that is not something that is going to be resolved quickly.”
Mr Key indicated financial help would be similar to the strategies used after the September 4, 2010 earthquake, when a range of assistance was offered to people who didn’t have enough money to pay their bills and to businesses which couldn’t continue paying wages.
Most ministers are free of other work for the next two weeks so they can concentrate on Canterbury’s crisis after Parliament agreed yesterday to adjourn until March 8.
Christchurch MPs who returned to the city yesterday to help their constituents have been given leave until March 24.