Trapped beneath the rubble of Christchurch's CTV building, Louise Amantillo sent increasingly desperate pleas to her faraway family for help.
"Mummy, I got buried," read her first text message from the aftermath of what may prove New Zealand's deadliest disaster. "Mummy, I can't move my right hand."
For hours following Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude earthquake, the 23-year-old student communicated with her parents in the Philippines, with chilling descriptions of her pain and terror as rescuers failed to appear. "We told her, 'You can make it, you can make it. Be strong and pray,' " said her father, Alexander. Contending with failing phone networks, they managed a brief phone conversation. The last time Linda Amantillo heard her daughter's voice, it was "shaking, like she was really scared. I know she was in pain".
The Amantillos, who live in Iloilo province in central Philippines, have sent a relative in New Zealand to comb Christchurch's hospitals for their daughter. But there has been no sign of her since her final message at 3:32pm on Tuesday: "Please make it quick."
A nurse who had come to New Zealand to study English, Amantillo is one of up to 120 people police believe to have perished in the CTV building, the site of the greatest number of casualties so far. The four-storey headquarters of the local television station was also home to King's Education language school, from which 46 foreign students are now missing. "This is not just New Zealand's tragedy," said Foreign Minister Murray McCully yesterday.
King's Education's students hailed from Japan, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Korea. Since Tuesday's quake, which killed at least 113 people and has left 228 missing, a large international group of relatives, rescuers, police and media has converged on New Zealand's second largest city. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker assured the visitors that "your children are our children – there is no difference".
Much of their attention has focused on the CTV building, where about 50 bodies have been recovered. Authorities had earlier abandoned their rescue efforts at the site, with a police inspector saying on Wednesday there was "no chance" of finding survivors. But work has since resumed, with the arrival of the 500-strong foreign contingent of search-and-rescue reinforcements, hailing from Britain, Australia, the US, Singapore, China and Taiwan.
"The situation at the scene is terrible, and we're struggling, but we'll never give up hope," said Yukio Yoshii, head of a Japanese team sifting through the smouldering steel and concrete of the CTV ruins. Mr McCully said yesterday he would be seeking additional foreign help.
Further assistance arrived yesterday in the guise of 290 Australian police officers, brought in to clamp down on rising lawlessness. The officers received a standing ovation from locals, before being sworn in to begin their "reassurance patrols".
Anxieties over property have grown in the days since the quake, with damaged suburbs abandoned, and overburdened police focusing on the recovery operation in the city centre. Despite hundreds of thefts having been reported, only about a dozen people have been charged.