Two Britons confirmed dead in quake

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The Independent Online

Two Britons died in an earthquake which ripped through a tourist city in New Zealand, the Foreign Office said today.

The announcement came as the rescue operation in Christchurch became one of body recovery and hopes of finding any survivors faded.

An Irishman, psychiatric nurse Eoin McKenna, is already among the known victims of the quake.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are aware of two British fatalities. Next of kin have been informed and we are providing consular assistance to them."

While the current death toll stands at 98, there are fears that up to 120 bodies are entombed under one of the buildings hardest hit by the shock.

Some 238 people are still believed to be missing.

The Foreign Office is now working with the local authorities, police and hospitals to get more information about the large number of British people living in the area.

"We have a large consular team on the ground, including our High Commissioner to New Zealand, Vicki Treadell, who are providing full consular assistance to any British nationals that require it," the spokesman said.

"The High Commission in Wellington has been reinforced with additional staff, and we stand ready to send further reinforcements from our posts in the region if required."

A 55-strong search and rescue team, drawn from the British emergency fire and rescue services, was due to arrive in the stricken town today.

Christchurch Police Superintendent Russell Gibson said the operation had now become one of body recovery, though he rejected suggestions that rescuers were abandoning hope of finding anyone alive.

The names of some of those killed in the quake, which occurred at lunchtime local time on Tuesday, are expected to be released later.

However, sources said it could be a month before all the names of the dead have been released as the severity of injuries means DNA and fingerprints may have to be used to identify them.

Up to 120 bodies are still believed to be inside the Canterbury Television building, which also housed an English language school.

Efforts there have shifted from rescue to recovery as police gave up hope of finding more survivors.

Tributes have been paid to Mr McKenna, from Monaghan county, who died after his car was crushed by falling debris.

Married to a woman from New Zealand, he was a well-known figure in his local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and had lived in the country for about six years.

Former school friends said the father-of-two had trained and worked in London and also spent some time in Saudi Arabia, where he met his wife.

Fabian Murphy, an old school friend from St McCartan's College in Monaghan, last saw Mr McKenna when he returned home for a short visit in July 2009.

"He was as funny as ever. I have known him since we were four years old," Mr Murphy said.

"He was one of the funniest people ever, even in 2009, the night's craic we had was just like old times.

"We'll really miss him."

It is understood the hospital where he worked contacted family in the Emyvale area of Monaghan to say he had not arrived for work after the quake struck.

Authorities in Ireland said a second victim was believed to have been married to an Irish woman and may have held dual Irish and British nationality.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said it also had strong concerns about two more Irish citizens believed to have been in the Christchurch area when the powerful 6.3-magnitude tremor struck.

Meanwhile, a British man struck by a falling beam has been hospitalised after he suffered a broken collar bone and fractured skull.

The quake, which has seen rescuers and other teams arrive from Britain, Australia, the United States, Japan and elsewhere in Asia, is estimated to have so far cost some £7.4 billion.

A military field hospital has been established and workers have been drafted in to help repair power, water and phone lines in the South Island city.

The Japanese government said 27 of its nationals were missing in the disaster zone.