Searchers have found no bodies at Christchurch’s iconic cathedral despite earlier reports that 22 people were thought to be buried in rubble there after last week’s devastating magnitude 6.
The number of people thought to be missing would likely be revised as a result, Superintendent Sandra Manderson said this morning.
“We have cleared the cathedral site and we found no bodies in the cathedral at all, so to us that’s fantastic news,” she told Radio New Zealand.
“Urban search and rescue have cleared the whole area, they’ve cleared the tower, they’ve cleared the church and they’ve cleared the immediate surrounding area all round the church, and they’ve found no bodies.
“The Dean of ChristChurch has been advised, and he is absolutely elated.”
Police were trying to establish where the estimate of 22 people trapped at the cathedral had come from.
“I haven’t been able to do that so far, but I’m hoping that the estimated death toll will come down,” Ms Manderson said.
The total death toll now stands at 165 after two more bodies were recovered from the CTV building site yesterday.
Police were now looking at revising the estimated toll of more than 200 people, which was “highly likely” to come down after the cathedral was searched.
“I’ve been in contact early this morning with people dealing with the missing persons list, and they’re going through it was we speak and revising it.
“Initially we had hundreds of people on the list, so it will be really good if that does go down, and it’s highly possible.”
Ms Manderson said recovery work continued throughout the central city.
“They’ve been working really long hours, really hard, and with great respect to the people that they’re serving,” she said.
“There’s just huge amounts of rubble all around the town. Much of that has been searched, but there’s still work to be done.”
Some areas would be searched again.
Meanwhile, six recovery assistance centres would open this morning in the hardest hit areas of the city, offering a range of services and information for people who need help.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said yesterday the “one stop shops” would provide face-to-face services and information from agencies like Work and Income, Housing New Zealand, Christchurch City Council, Red Cross and Salvation Army.
More non-government organisations would join these agencies over the coming days to ensure a wide range of services are available.
Most recovery assistance centres will be in the hardest hit suburbs in east Christchurch such as Aranui, Linwood, Dallington and New Brighton.
Prime Minister John Key yesterday had a first-hand look at the quake-ravaged eastern suburbs where many still lack basis utilities such as power and running water.
He talked to locals in the suburb of Bexley who expressed their frustration at their plight.
Mr Key acknowledged the “utter devastation” of the eastern suburbs and moved to reassure residents and the wider public that the government was doing “everything possible”.
He said the inquiry into the earthquake and the rescue, recovery and relief operations – which he announced on Thursday – would deal with the way the eastern suburbs had been treated.
The cordon blocking off central Christchurch after last week’s destructive earthquake will be reduced tomorrow.
The CBD sustained massive damage in the shallow 6.3 earthquake which hit at 12.51pm, on February 22.
Civil Defence head John Hamilton said four green zones had been established at the edge of the cordon area and two of those would be open to the public at 2pm on Sunday.
Residents and business owners would be able to access the cordons from 8am to secure their properties, he said.
Mayor Bob Parker told NZPA he would like to hold a day of remembrance and to open a safe walkway through the CBD for people to see the destruction.
“Perhaps it (the day) can start with a remembrance service in Hagley Park and a silent procession into the city as part of the grieving process.
“We need to have that opportunity to remember, to grieve not only for the people that we have lost, but also for those buildings that are part of the story of our lives.”