New Zealand quake toll rises to 145 (Second Lead)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

CHRISTCHURCH - The toll in a devastating quake in New Zealand’s second largest city of Christchurch Saturday rose to 145 and officials feared the number may rise further.

“We expect that number to rise,” said Superintendent David Cliff. The number of missing people remains at more than 200, he said.

A 6.3 magnitude quake struck the city Feb 22, bringing death and destruction in the aftermath.

“There remains a very real risk of masonry coming off buildings,” Cliff said, “as well as windows still smashing with those aftershocks”.

A police officer has been assigned to each of the families of those still missing, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Fire service spokesman Paul Baxter said the search and rescue effort was continuing, but there were no live rescues Saturday and there have not been any since Wednesday afternoon.

But Baxter said the rescue teams were ready to be deployed to other areas at the first sign of life.

Cliff said that visual identification of the bodies was not easy.

“The biggest concern we have to returning the wrong loved one to the wrong family,” he said. Identification often relied on fingerprints or DNA, he said.

No new names of the deceased were released Saturday.

The search and rescue teams have now gone through the whole area. Teams were now going back more thoroughly through areas that have already been covered.

Power has been restored to just over 82 percent of the city, including more than half of Sumner, which was particularly hard-hit.

Prime Minister John Key has asked for a two-minute silence March 1 “as a sign of unity for the people of Christchurch and out of respect for those that lost their lives”.

Key met with the families of those still missing earlier Saturday, who have been waiting for days for news of their loved ones.

“People can survive for considerable periods of time without water and food, and we’re working as hard as we can to find those who might have survived this tragedy but might be trapped,” he said.

The government will announce an economic package Monday.

“It won’t be the final solution. That’s a very complex issue but it is an attempt for those who have lost their income and livelihood,” Key said.

The packages are likely to last for a month, when further arrangements will be made.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has appealed for support and understanding for staff working to restore services in the city after Tuesday’s devastating earthquake.

Police Saturday said that the death toll had risen to 123. More than 200 people remain missing, with the disaster affecting nationals from over 20 countries.

Parker told a media conference this morning he knew residents were going through a difficult time. “This will not get easy in a hurry,” Parker said. “Nobody is sitting back watching this. Everybody is involved.”

He said services would be restored as quickly as possible.

He added that workers were as focused as ever on their task. “This might be a Saturday, and it might be that we haven’t had good news stories we were hoping for in terms of finding people … but for us this is just as important a day as the first day, the second day, the third day,” he said.

Parker said that of the 1,000 buildings that had been checked in the central business district, 60 percent had been deemed to be safe, 17 percent had been assessed as safe to access, but 20 to 25 percent had been evacuated and deemed unsafe.

In the suburbs, 341 houses had also been red-stickered and evacuated. Another 500 had only limited access, according to the Herald.

There have been nine aftershocks in Christchurch since early Saturday, GNS Science reported.

The biggest was a 4.1 magnitude quake struck at 6.52 a.m. at a depth of nine km within five km of the city.

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