The compassionate business end of the grieving process is under tremendous strain in the aftermath of the February 22 earthquake, prompting the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand to summon a disaster response team to the city.

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More than 50 embalmers, funeral directors and support staff have been enlisted to ease the workload heaped on employees of Christchurch’s 10 funeral homes.

Association president Tony Garing said the reinforcements were required to relieve staff traumatised by the 6.3-magnitude earthquake last Tuesday which has left at least 161 people dead.

Although funeral directors and their staff were naturally accustomed to comforting the grief-tricken, the scale of this disaster was unprecedented – and they had also been touched by the tragedy.

“We’ve all dealt with tragic death, horrific accidents all sorts of things but they tend to be in isolation,” Garing told NZPA.

“It’s just the sheer scale at the moment …”

Staff had required counselling as they dealt with the loss of friends and damage to property.

“The important thing is there’s resources out there for staff to talk to people if the pressure gets too much for them and they need to unload.

“Several people have lost homes or been traumatised by the earthquakes. They’re dealing with that as well as grief from people who have lost someone and on top of that there’s all the other deaths that are happening in the community as well — that hasn’t stopped.

“Emotionally it’s going to be a tough couple of weeks.”

Garing said it was fortunate the release of quake victims to next of kin had been regulated.

“It has been quite controlled. I don’t think we’re going to get 40 or 50 a day released but it could escalate,” he said.

“At the moment there’s been a measured pace of releases but as that increases over the next few weeks we’ll have more teams on the ground so we can rotate some of them back home for a break.”

Garing hoped a backlog could be avoided but already bookings are at a premium.

Earthquake victim Jeff Sanft, 32, was to be farewelled on Thursday in a service at Kerrs Rd

Chapel, Linwood and the funeral for Andrew Christian Ross Craig, 46, followed.

The number of churches extensively damaged by the quake also put pressure on funeral directors, though Garing said fortunately the city’s 10 funeral homes were operational, despite some being damaged.