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'Death toll may be much higher than ever feared'


Police and search and recovery team members assess damage of the Christchurch Cathedral. Photo: AP

Police and search and recovery team members assess damage of the Christchurch Cathedral. Photo: AP

Police and search and recovery team members assess damage of the Christchurch Cathedral. Photo: AP

THE number of deaths in the Christchurch earthquake could be "much higher than we had feared", New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key warned the nation yesterday.

Rescuers said there were no signs of life amid the ruins.

An estimated 228 people are still lost in the rubble of the country's second largest city, in addition to the 102 confirmed dead.

Despite hours of work, rescuers succeeded only in extricating the dead from the debris yesterday. There were no further calls for help, no tapping and no text messages from survivors.

Police sniffer dogs and listening devices also failed to detect movement, or other signs of life, from the fallen buildings in the city centre.

The hunt for the living continued at the Pyne Gould Guinness building, where it was hoped that 14 people trapped in the debris could be saved. But by the end of the day, rescuers had found only two bodies and the authorities reported that there were "no signs of life".

A total of 120 people are feared dead beneath the Canterbury TV (CTV) building after police said there was no chance of finding anyone alive.

The number of missing inside the city's cathedral stands at 22. Again, no one is expected to have survived, but Supt Dave Cliff, the Canterbury district police commander, refused to give up hope.


"This hasn't been a day where we have had the breakthrough stories that we wanted to bring to the community, but we continue to look with positivity," he said. "We are looking for the living."

Mr Key's message to the country was far bleaker. "The death toll could be much greater than any of us have ever feared," he said.

At least three Britons have died and the High Commission warned that it was likely that the number would rise. One British victim has been named as Susan Selway, a mother of two who was married to a New Zealander. Mrs Selway (50), worked as a clinical psychologist in an office in the Canterbury TV building and had not been seen since the quake.

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Another British man was in a serious condition in hospital with a fractured skull, but was expected to survive.

The victims at the TV building included foreign students who were in classes when the earthquake struck.

The Chinese embassy estimated that 20 of its citizens were in the building, and Japan said it feared 10 of its nationals had died.

Rolando Cabunilas (34), a steelworker from the Philippines, had not heard from his wife, Ivy Jane (33), who was in her second day in class when the quake struck.

"I can't describe it; it's pain, anger, all emotions," he said.

The ground floor windows of Rydges Hotel on Oxford Terrace are broken, while nearby bars are strewn with overturned tables and smashed glass.

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. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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