NZ earthquake toll at 98 dead, 226 missing
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand - February 24, 2011 (WPVI) -- Rescuers fanned out into unchecked areas of New Zealand's quake-devastated city Thursday looking for any remaining life in the rubble, as the death toll rose to 98 with "grave fears" that many of the 226 missing are dead.
"Rescue team! Rescue team!" a visiting firefighter from Australia called out as his team went through an office building apparently abandoned during Tuesday's disaster in Christchurch. There was no response.
Police said up to 120 bodies may still lie trapped in the tangled concrete and steel that was the Canterbury Television or CTV building, where dozens of students from Japan, Thailand, China and other Asian countries were believed buried when an English-language school collapsed along with other offices. Twenty-three bodies were pulled from the building Thursday, but not immediately identified.
"The longer I don't know what happened, the longer my agony becomes," said Rolando Cabunilas, 34, a steel worker from the Philippines whose wife, Ivy Jane, 33, was on her second day of class at the school when the quake struck. She hasn't been heard from since.
"I can't describe it - it's pain, anger, all emotions," he said.
Officials appealed to families of the missing to be patient, saying the agony could be worse if they rushed the identifications and came to wrong conclusions.
The official death toll from the 6.3-magnitude temblor stood at 98, police Superintendent Dave Cliff said. An additional 226 people were listed as missing, and Prime Minister John Key said there were "grave fears" that many of them did not survive.
Among the confirmed dead were two infant boys, one 9 months old, the other 5 months, Cliff said. He did not give details of their deaths.
Two days after the quake and with no one pulled alive from the wreckage for more than 24 hours, the focus was shifting away from possible rescues toward the recovery of bodies and securing the uncertain number of buildings left dangerously wobbly.
Authorities also struggled to restore power, reliable phones and water - Mayor Bob Parker warned residents to assume that tap water is contaminated and boil it before drinking it or cooking with it. People were streaming out of the city to stay with friends or relatives. The Civil Defense Ministry said about 1,000 had used special flights sending people to other cities.
A video released Thursday showed rescuers in the immediate aftermath of the quake Tuesday, when a team lined a mine-like shaft through the rubble of the Pyne Gould Guinness building, pulling a man, then a woman from between collapsed floors.
"When I saw his face, right there in front of me I just burst into tears, I was just so, so happy," trapped woman Roslyn Chapman said of her rescuer. "I just felt so lucky and to get down on the street and see my fiance ... and to turn around and look at that building I just can't believe we made it out of there alive," she told TV New Zealand, which broadcast the footage, shot by a rescuer.
There was more misery for the family of Donna Manning, a morning show presenter whose teen-aged children Kent and Lizzy held a vigil outside the CTV building until being told by police Tuesday their mother could not have survived. As they were waiting, their home was robbed, Manning's brother Maurice Gardner told TVNZ.
Hundreds of foreign specialists - from the U.S., Britain, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan - arrived to bolster local police and soldiers and allow teams to broaden their search to smaller buildings not yet checked.
"Now we've got the capability of going out and doing searches in areas where there may still be people trapped that hitherto we haven't been able to address," Civil Defense Minister John Carters said.
Teams dressed in blue coveralls and orange helmets and with sniffer dogs moved along city streets lined with one- and two-story office buildings, small stores, restaurants and cafes. The brick facades of some had fallen onto sidewalks, and car after car parked at the curb lay crushed under heavy steel awnings.
They went building to building. At times, a dog would let out a bark and rush excitedly into the rubble, the rescuers following gingerly after them. At one place, they uncovered a body pinned under a huge chunk of concrete.
Mayor Bob Parker said 60 percent of a broad area of the inner city had undergone preliminary checks, with searchers marking some buildings as too dangerous to enter, and others as needing more detailed checks later.
Key has declared the quake a national disaster, which analysts estimate could cost up to $12 billion in insurance losses.
The water system for Christchurch and surrounding areas was in disarray.
Parker said water was still out for half of the city and that it might be contaminated for the other half, so all residents should boil it before using it to drink, wash or cook because of the risk of disease.
Fourteen water tankers have been dispatched around the city for people to fill buckets or other containers, and residents were urged not to flush toilets or use showers.
Power was restored to 75 percent of the city, but it could take weeks to repair supplies to the rest, said Roger Sutton, CEO of supplier Orion.
Tuesday's quake was the second major temblor to strike the city in the past five months.
It was less powerful than the 7.1 temblor that struck before dawn on Sept. 4, damaging buildings but killing no one. Experts said Tuesday's quake was deadlier because it was closer to the city and because more people were about.
Associated Press writers Steve McMorran in Christchurch, and Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand, and Kelly Doherty in Sydney contributed to this report.
new zealand, earthquake, national/world
- 911 recordings released in Ewing Twp. explosion
- Brief Surge of Mild Air
- Get the 6abc StormTracker app
- WATCH: Action News Online
- Gas leak, evacuations reported in Frankford
- Man,90, dies in Hamilton Township house fire
- Partial house collapse in Strawberry Mansion
- 2 injured in NJ Turnpike crash in Mt. Laurel
- Autopsy results released in death of trooper's wife
- Search for finger-biting mall attack suspects
- Pa. woman born at Burger King seeks birth mom
- Vietnam vet's therapy dog missing in Lehigh Valley
- Photos: 7 recent child porn arrests in Pa.and Del.
- Photos: Thwarted! 10 suspects caught in the act
More 6abc.com resources
Most Viewed StoriesMost Viewed Photos