Hopes fade for victims buried under rubble of Christchurch

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Prospects of more survivors being pulled from the Christchurch rubble receded yesterday, with no one found alive since Wednesday afternoon and the death toll from Tuesday's earthquake expected to rise well above the latest official figure of 113.

The authorities insisted that they had not given up hope, as rescue teams broadened their search to smaller buildings in the city on New Zealand's South Island. But they ruled out finding anyone alive in the collapsed Canterbury Television (CTV) offices, where as many as 120 people may have died, or in Christchurch's cathedral, where up to 22 lie buried beneath fallen concrete.

The local police commander, Dave Cliff, said he was "gravely concerned" about 228 people listed as missing – although that figure is believed to include many of those confirmed dead.

The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday that two Britons were among the dead. One of those was named as Gregory James Tobin, 25, from Tadcaster in North Yorkshire. He was working at a garage in Christchurch.

John Key, New Zealand's Prime Minister, said: "We're very fearful tonight that the death toll could be much greater than any of us have ever feared. Frankly, it looks like a war zone from a helicopter. It's building after building that's collapsed."

Rescuers, including teams from Britain, the US, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan, were using sniffer dogs, cameras, microphones and listening devices, but found no signs of life yesterday. Hopes were raised by reports of a woman's voice inside a small ruined church, but they proved to be false. With only four bodies identified so far, including those of two infant boys, relatives face an agonising wait.

Emily Cooper, a CTV journalist who was out filming when the earthquake struck at lunchtime, has 15 colleagues missing. She told Radio New Zealand: "You can't really do much except just hope, and you can't lose hope, and we're not going to until we have a definite confirmation."

A total of 164 people have been taken to hospital with injuries including broken bones, and head, neck and spinal trauma.

Twenty-three more bodies were pulled out of the six-storey CTV building yesterday, bringing the toll from that one site to 47. The building also housed an English language school; dozens of students from China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines are among the missing.

Ivy Jane Cabunilas, a 33-year-old Filipina, was on her second day of classes when the 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck. She has not been heard from since. Her husband, Rolando, said: "The longer I don't know what happened, the longer my agony becomes. I can't describe it. It's pain, anger – all emotions."

Rescue efforts had focused on the CTV building and a handful of other major office blocks in the city centre, but yesterday work at those sites shifted to the recovery of bodies.

A wary eye was kept on the 26-storey Hotel Grand Chancellor, which was leaning perilously and in danger of collapsing. "It's incredibly dangerous. If it hits the ground, it will create a tremendous shockwave," said the Christchurch mayor, Bob Parker.

Power was restored to much of the city, but half the water supply was out, the rest feared contaminated.

The Blackburn Rovers defender and New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen has told of an anxious wait to hear from his sister who had given birth in Christchurch. Nelsen told New Zealand paper The Dominion Post his sister, Stephanie Martin, had been "knocked over" by the force of the quake and had gone into labour. He was later informed by his mother, Christine, that his sister and the baby, George, were doing well. "It was such a relief to get that text from mum to say everything was OK," he said.