New Zealand rescuers refused to give up the hunt for quake survivors yesterday, despite hope fading for hundreds feared trapped two days after a disaster that has killed nearly 100.
Emergency officials gave the grim news that they could find no signs of life in the wreckage of office towers, churches and homes after the magnitude 6.3 tremor laid waste to central Christchurch and some of its suburbs.
“All over the world when we see disasters like this, we see miracle stories of people being pulled out, days and in some cases weeks after the event,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said.
“That does not mean that there can’t and won’t be people trapped in buildings,” he said. “We can’t give up hope, but we also need to be realistic.”
Police said 98 bodies had been retrieved from the rubble and 226 people were listed as missing.
“We’re gravely concerned about those individuals,” district commander Dave Cliff told reporters.
Rescuers ruled out anyone being found alive at the collapsed Canterbury TV (CTV) building, which housed a TV station and a busy language school for foreign students, and where as many as 120 people may have perished.
They also abandoned hope of finding survivors at Christchurch’s landmark cathedral, which lost its spire and where up to 22 people could be buried.
Police released the first names of quake victims, listing four people including two babies aged five months and nine months.
However, police insisted hundreds of search specialists including foreign teams, with sniffer dogs, purpose-built cameras and listening devices, were still focused on finding survivors, 24 hours after last pulling anyone out alive.
“If people are alive and trapped we’re doing everything humanly possible, with a huge range of people from right around the world,” Cliff said.
He also issued a sharp warning to criminals after about a dozen cases of post-quake looting in Christchurch, saying police patrols would “saturate” the city and its suburbs and strictly enforce a -curfew in the center.
Hundreds crowded Christchurch’s airport, desperate for a flight out of the city of 390,000.
“It’s crazy, nerve-wracking, my nerves are just ... I’ve just been shaking all day, I haven’t eaten,” said Vanessa Burgess, who was camped out at the terminal with her two young children.
Up to 30 quake survivors were rescued on the first night, but only a handful emerged from the wreckage on Wednesday.
Speaking to the Seven Network on her mobile phone, Anne Vos had gripped millions of TV viewers with her account of being trapped in the mangled Pyne Gould office building before she was rescued late on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a Taiwanese student is still listed as missing in Christchurch, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesman James Chang (章計平) said yesterday.
The Taiwanese was among a group of foreign students who were reportedly trapped in the CTV building, according to New Zealand media. Police have said that the building was “not survivable.”
Speaking to the media, Chang said the student remained listed as missing after attempts by Taiwanese officials in Christchurch to make contact with the student via mobile phone failed. The student was also not at home when officials visited the student’s residence.
Chang declined to disclose the identity of the student, citing privacy.