The brother and sister huddled together on the damp lawn, their gaze locked on the little that was left of a building that had collapsed with their mother inside.
And still they hoped. They hadn't heard from TV presenter Donna Manning since the earthquake turned the life of their town upside down.
"My mum is superwoman, she'd do anything," her 18-year-old daughter Libby said, tears streaming down her face.
But the words had barely left her mouth when a police officer approached and knelt before Libby and her 15-year-old brother Kent in the rain. "I have some horrible news..." the officer began.
The teens' faces crumpled, and their father wrapped them in an embrace. There was no hope left for anyone trapped inside the building, the officer said gently.
It was one of the darkest moments of a desperate hunt for any signs of life in the twisted rubble in the city of Christchurch, as Prime Minister John Key declared the quake a national disaster and analysts estimated its cost at up to $12bn (€8.7bn).
Hundreds of troops, police and emergency workers raced against time and aftershocks that threatened to collapse more buildings.
More teams rushed in from Australia, Asia, the United States and Britain, along with a military field hospital and teams to help repair power, water and phone lines.
The news was grim at the Canterbury Television building, where Ms Manning was a morning presenter and other businesses, including an English language school used by young visitors from Japan and South Korea.
Canterbury TV chairman Nick Smith said 15 of his employees were still missing. Ten Japanese language students were still missing.
Not far away, cheers erupted as rescuers pulled a woman from another crumpled office tower. Ann Bodkin was reunited with her husband after a painstaking rescue from twisted metal and concrete remains of the Pyne Gould Guinness building.
Many sections of the city of 350,000 people lie in ruins, and police announced a nighttime curfew to keep people away from dangerous buildings and to prevent opportunistic crime.
One of the city's tallest buildings, the 27-floor Hotel Grand Chancellor, was showing signs of buckling. Authorities emptied the building and evacuated a two-block radius.