Emergency operations in earthquake-hit Christchurch are now more focused on body recovery than rescuing survivors, New Zealand’s prime minister John Key said this morning.
“I think the large reason why (emergency services) are describing this as more likely to be a recovery than a rescue is they’re not getting positive signs that people are there,” he said, referring to the prospect of survivors in the rubble.
The official death toll from Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude earthquake remains at 75 but no-one has been found alive in the rubble since yesterday afternoon.
This morning there were unconfirmed reports that rescuers were responding to signs of life in one collapsed CBD building.
Deputy prime minister Bill English has told ABC News Breakfast that authorities expect the number of people confirmed dead will increase.
“As the hours tick by, the possibility of people being found alive is dropping off,” he said.
“The searchers on the ground are telling us there is still some chance there are survivors in there.
“There’s been a figure of around 300 missing … we would hope that over the next couple of days, as people report in, that number will drop.”
Overnight, rescue teams worked under floodlights as they searched for survivors.
Search and rescue personnel have focused mainly on the Canterbury TV (CTV) building, with estimates that around 50 people may be in the rubble.
Police say people may still be alive in the CTV building, but the signs are not good because of a fire and the amount of rubble.
Urban search and rescue teams are using sniffer dogs, sound detectors, thermal imaging equipment and cameras to scour piles of rubble from other buildings.
Rescuers had been receiving text messages from four to six people in the Pyne Gould Guinness (PGG) building, but there was no further contact overnight. Rescuers say that could be because their mobile phone batteries may have gone flat.
Central district commander Superintendent Russell Gibson says the rescue and recovery operation will go on around the clock with the help of Australia and other countries.
“The rescue effort is progressing. It is a slow meticulous job. Unfortunately we haven’t managed to find any more survivors overnight,” he said.
“We have pulled a number of bodies out of some buildings but the work carries on and we are ever hopeful that we will find more survivors.
“[In the] early hours of this morning I was at the PGG building – it is all Aussies doing the search in there. They have been here two hours and then they were deployed into the field.
“The commander there was telling me he is very optimistic we are going to get some more survivors out of here.
“They tell me there are pockets between the floors, and provided the people haven’t been crushed, there is no reason to suspect we won’t get more out of there.
“So I think that is the one that we are most optimistic we are going to get more survivors out of.”
Two Australian women were pulled alive from the rubble yesterday and this morning DFAT said it had concerns for one Australian who was still missing.
But a DFAT statement said: “Sadly, we need to prepare for the possibility of more Australian fatalities.”
Residents in Christchurch and its surrounding suburbs spent another grim night camped in evacuation centres and local parks with little power or water as they wait for word on their loved ones trapped in some of the city’s most iconic buildings
Civil defence minister John Carter says power had been restored to 60 per cent of the city but 80 per cent of Christchurch does not have water.
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker has described the destruction in the centre of Christchurch and its surrounding suburbs as massive.
In Sumner, huge boulders have rolled down hills destroying homes and killing some occupants.
According to Canterbury University geologist Mark Quigley, more boulders could be dislodged by the aftershocks and there is the risk of landslides.
Flooding due to liquefaction – water, sand, and silt bubbling up from within the earth – is also creating havoc.