The death toll from the earthquake in New Zealand this week will likely rise as rescue workers sift through the rubble of buildings brought down by the nation’s deadliest earthquake in 80 years, authorities say.
“This is the first of some very, very hard announcements that will have to be made in the days ahead,” Bob Parker, the mayor of Christchurch, told reporters after police began releasing the names of victims yesterday. “It’s just a very very difficult time.”
New Zealand police have recovered 98 bodies following the 6.3-magnitude temblor that rocked the nation’s second-largest city on Feb. 22. Some 226 are missing, police said.
About 550 rescuers and 12 dogs were scheduled to arrive in Christchurch yesterday, Iona Wassilieff, a spokeswoman for the Civil Defence department, said in a telephone interview. Two teams from Australia and one team each from Taiwan and Japan are already in the South Island city. More were expected from Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S. to search for victims trapped in business district office buildings.
“It was just a scene of utter devastation,” New Zealand Police Minister Judith Collins said yesterday after visiting the ruins of the Canterbury Television building, where police say as many as 120 bodies could be recovered. “I have never seen anything like it. If you saw it on a movie or a news screen, you’d think someone’s made it up.
Twenty-three bodies were removed from the CTV building in the city center yesterday, bringing the total so far recovered at the site to 47, police said.
Christchurch residents are bracing for more aftershocks threatening to topple buildings already weakened by this week’s jolt. The city has been shaken by dozens of aftershocks since the initial temblor..
On the edge of Cathedral Square, the dome of the 105-year- old Regent Theatre crumbled. Parts of the facade of the 108- year-old Clarendon Hotel are on the footpath and lie behind emergency tape. Streets are quiet other than the sound of ducks on the Avon River snaking through Christchurch’s city center.
Beside the river, the 1917 statue of Robert Falcon Scott, the second man to reach the South Pole, snapped off its plinth and lies on the ground.
The ground floor windows of Rydges Hotel on Oxford Terrace are broken while nearby bars are strewn with overturned tables and smashed glass. Further south, verandas lining the city’s Cashel Street shopping strip have collapsed.
Rescuers weren’t ‘‘getting a huge number of positive responses from the buildings where we would expect there to be more people trapped alive,” Prime Minister John Key told reporters in Wellington yesterday.
Police imposed a nighttime curfew in some areas of Christchurch on Wednesday amid concerns that more buildings may collapse. Members of the public within the center’s four main avenues after 6:30 p.m. local time faced arrest, police said.
The death toll from the quake, the strongest since September when the city was shaken by a 7.0 magnitude temblor, is the worst since the Napier earthquake in 1931 killed 256.
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