Hopes of finding quake survivors begin to fade

Rescue efforts in Christchurch complicated by poor weather and aftershocks as Prime Minister declares state of emergency

The full horrors of Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Christchurch were revealed yesterday as the death toll nudged up to 75 and some survivors were rescued after 24 hours buried beneath tonnes of rubble in New Zealand's second city.

The city centre remained sealed off last night as emergency teams battled fading hopes of rescuing more victims of the catastrophic earthquake. As the death toll increased following the 6.3-magnitude tremor, the Prime Minister, John Key, declared the country's first national state of emergency.

About 300 people are still missing, mostly in the ruined central business district, which was placed under military curfew. At the heart of the cordon, teams worked through the night to retrieve 22 people entombed in the rubble of the 130-year-old Christ Church Cathedral. Police predicted that 20 of them were likely to be dead.

Rescue efforts were complicated by poor weather and regular aftershocks, and were carried out beneath the ominous lean of the city's tallest building, the 27-storey, 70m-high Hotel Grand Chancellor. Emergency workers kept a wary eye on the slumping tower, which Mr Key warned threatened to "cause a mini earthquake and take out other buildings with it".

Four blocks away, prospects were bleak at the burning ruins of the four-storey Canterbury Television building, where 15 staff and 23 Japanese students from a neighbouring language school remained unaccounted for. It was feared that up to 100 people could be inside.

But there were moments of cheer. About 30 people were saved yesterday, including Ann Bodkin, who was pulled from the ruins of the Pyne Gould Corporation offices after nearly 26 hours. "The sun came out the moment she was removed from the building," said the Mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker. "It was like God turned on the lights." At least 14 others were still trapped inside the building last night.

Elsewhere in the city of 380,000 people, disorder reigned, with roads destroyed and cars abandoned. Forty per cent of Christchurch was without power, and those with water were ordered to refrain from washing. Six alleged looters were arrested and on the radio and television, frazzled civic leaders sniped at seismologists for their failure to predict the disaster.

The airport was hectic with tourists being evacuated on emergency flights, and civilian and military reinforcements arriving to help. With accommodation at a premium, a prison was emptied and its inmates rehoused in another to make way for rescue workers.

Meanwhile, in welfare centres, hundreds gathered for shelter, bedding and food. Those whose homes had survived, such as student Hossein Nazari, 29, offered a room for strangers. "This was far, far stronger than the last one," he said, referring to Christchurch's 7.1-magnitude earthquake in September, which, though stronger, struck while the city slept, and left no casualties.

Henry Jaiswal, a civil defence co-ordinator, said it was hoped that many of the displaced would be absorbed into the community and put up by family and friends. But there was no real blueprint for how a disaster of this scale would play out.

Thomas Rummel watched rescue efforts on television, trying to reconcile the pictures with his own escape a day earlier. He was in his 16th-floor office when the quake hit. It knocked out power and destroyed the stairwell two floors below him, stranding 23 people on the building's top three floors.

A crane eventually winched Mr Rummel down from the roof, but not before he had endured four hours of jolting aftershocks, and witnessed many of the city's landmark buildings tumble down. "We saw the whole city around us," he said. "The cathedral was gone, Pyne Gould was gone. We saw it from all sides. We saw it all fall down."

'Like a horror movie'

* The sister and brother sat huddled yesterday on sodden grass, staring at the smouldering remains of an office tower that collapsed with their mother inside. They hadn't heard from Donna Manning since a powerful earthquake tore through Christchurch a day earlier, killing at least 75 people and leaving some 300 missing in the rubble. Still, there was hope.

"My mum is superwoman, she'd do anything," Manning's 18-year-old daughter Lizzy said, tears streaming down her face.

Just then, a police officer approached and knelt before Lizzy and her 15-year-old brother, Kent, in the rain. "I have some horrible news..." the officer began.

The teens' faces crumpled, and their father wrapped them in an embrace as the officer gently broke the news that their mother was presumed dead along with everyone else trapped inside the building.

* A construction manager who joined rescue efforts after the devastating earthquake described rescuers using a hacksaw to cut off a man's leg to free him after he was pinned under concrete.

Fred Haering says rescuers used sledgehammers and chainsaws to cut into the collapsed Pyne Gould Guinness building in Christchurch from the roof, slicing downwards through layers of sandwiched offices and finding bodies crushed under concrete slabs.

One man had a leg pinned under concrete, and a doctor administered medicine to deaden his pain. A fireman asked Haering for a hacksaw. Haering handed it over and tried to avert his eyes as the man's leg was sawn off, saving him from certain death.

Haering says: "It's a necessity of the game. How are you gonna get out?"

* Students from across Asia are feared among the dead in an office building that collapsed in the quake, with police saying yesterday they were "100 per cent certain" no one trapped was alive.

Survivors of the collapse at the Canterbury Television building described a scene "like out of a horror movie" and said they were worried about dozens of friends and colleagues whose fate was still unclear.

"As we were eating lunch, there was a major shaking, and suddenly the floor fell," 19-year-old Kento Okuda told Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Okuda was studying at King's Education language school inside the building along with more than a dozen other Japanese.

"Everyone around me was saying things like 'It hurts' as they fell downward," he said. "And then I realised I was in total darkness, with my right leg pinned by something so I couldn't move." Rescuers had to cut off his leg to free him. AP

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