British experts to help identify Christchurch dead

A British taskforce of disaster victim identification (DVI) experts is due to arrive in New Zealand tomorrow to help identify the victims of the Christchurch earthquake.

With the death toll standing at 146, officials have only been able to name six of the dead due to the extent of the injuries sustained during the magnitude 6.3 disaster.

Two Britons are confirmed to be among the victims, with the number expected to rise in the coming days.

However, New Zealand authorities must formally identify them before their bodies can be repatriated, a Foreign Office source said. It is hoped this will take place early next week.

The British High Commission said the eight-strong DVI team, which includes a pathologist, odontologist, and finger print expert, will assist experts from New Zealand and Australia.

Two members of the taskforce will arrive in the South Island city tomorrow afternoon, before being joined by the rest of their colleagues later in the week.

Meanwhile, Commission spokesman Chris Harrington confirmed that two British nationals, a male tourist and woman who lives in Christchurch, are recovering in hospital with serious, but not life threatening injuries sustained in the tremor. Both are over 50.

A British woman has been discharged from hospital after suffering a suspected heart attack following the quake, added Mr Harrington.

Families of the 200 people still missing in Christchurch spent another agonising day without news, clinging to the hope of a miracle.

A multi-national team of more than 600 rescuers from New Zealand, the UK, the US, China, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico and Australia, continued scouring the city but recovered only bodies.

Among the British families waiting for news of their loved ones caught up in the disaster was 44-year-old Jo Morley. whose brother, Phil Coppeard, from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, is among the missing Britons.

She was taking comfort from the miraculous tales of survival following the Haiti earthquake.

"Of course you still hope, as anybody would do," she said. "That's what we have to think."

Chartered accountant Mr Coppeard, 41, emigrated to the country in November with his wife, Suzanne Craig, and was doing a Masters in economics at the University of Canterbury.

He was travelling into town on a bus when the earthquake struck.

A British specialist rescue team arrived in the devastated city on Friday to help search for survivors among the flattened buildings.

Deployed after New Zealand accepted an offer of help from the British Government, they have been working among the ruins of the Pyne Gould Corporation building in the centre of the city, using acoustic listening devices to pick up any sound of life.

So far they have recovered three bodies from the wreckage, but remained optimistic in the hunt for survivors.

A spokesman for the group said: "At the moment they're working on the assumption that there may still be people alive in there, although it is several days on now.

"It's a very well-ordered operation and they've got the climate in their favour as it's not too hot or too cold, which means there's potential for people to be alive in there.

"As long as they've got access to water they could survive for up to 10 days. It looks like carnage but it does look like there may be voids in there where people may be able to survive."

High Commissioner to New Zealand Vicki Treadell said the UK was "only too willing to help" by sending teams to Christchurch.

"With New Zealand and Britain being such close friends, this is an opportunity to support and assist each other at this time of crisis," she added.

Christchurch Police Supt Russell Gibson said rescuers were not completely ruling out good news as the search.

"I talked to experts who say we've worked on buildings like this overseas and we get miracles. New Zealand deserves a few miracles," he said.

But families have also been warned to prepare for the "worst type of news", with New Zealand authorities admitting they expected the death toll "to steadily rise" over the coming days.

In Britain, the victims were commemorated with a minute's silence by players and fans before yesterday's Six Nations rugby clash between England and France at Twickenham.

British victim Gregory Tobin, 25, a chef, from Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, had been on a round-the-world trip and was believed to have been working temporarily at a garage in Christchurch when the devastation struck.

The identity of the other British victim, also male, has not been confirmed.

Prime minister John Key described the disaster as potentially being "New Zealand's single most tragic event".

He asked the country to observe two minutes' silence from 12.51pm on Tuesday, exactly one week after the earthquake, as a sign of unity for its victims.