Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christchurch earthquake death toll rises with hundreds still missing

Hopes of pulling more survivors from the rubble are fading in Christchurch as the city beds down for the second night since being rocked by a calamitous earthquake on Tuesday. Police declared a downtown curfew as aftershocks tested the spirit of a city that had not yet recovered from a quake in September last year.

The death toll from Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake has reached 75 and is expected to rise. Three hundred people are missing. Reports of Britons among the dead have not been confirmed. The British high commission, which is providing consular assistance in Christchurch, said it had received no information as yet of any British casualties.

Officials have urged Christchurch people to stay at home unless travel is essential. Locals venturing into the city to view the damage would hamper the rescue operation, said police superintendent Dave Cliff. He warned of the danger of "criminal elements" and announced a strict exclusion zone around the city's "four avenues" from 6.30pm. Six arrests for burglary have been made.

In the afternoon emergency workers were hurriedly evacuated from two blocks around the Hotel Grand Chancellor amid fears that the 27-storey building, which has slumped at one of its corners, could fall.

Up to 100 people are feared dead in the Canterbury TV building. Despite reports that authorities thought the building "not survivable", Ross Dittmer of the fire service said rescuers' pullout from the site was to do with the proximity to the Chancellor hotel rather than any abandonment of hope. Just after 8pm on Wednesday evening television images suggested the rescue effort at the CTV building was being relaunched.

There was rare a ray of hope on a gloomy day when rescuers pulled Ann Bodkin from the remains of the Pyne Gould Guinness building. She had spent a day trapped under her desk. The sun broke out as she emerged. According to the Christchurch mayor, Bob Parker, one emergency worker near the site said: "They got Ann out of the building and God turned on the lights."


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