Experts to begin grim quake task


British search and recovery team members in Christchurch, New Zealand (AP)

Members of a British taskforce have started to arrive in Christchurch to help identify the victims of the devastating New Zealand earthquake.

The disaster victim identification (DVI) team, which includes a pathologist, odontologist and fingerprint expert, will assist experts from New Zealand and Australia in the process, which has been hindered by the catastrophic injuries suffered by many of the victims.

Four Britons are now thought to have been killed in the 6.3-magnitude quake, and a further three are believed to have been injured.

Rescue crews switched off their drills and joined in with a two-minute silence observed across the country on Tuesday, exactly seven days after the disaster occurred.

Flags flew at half-mast, and prime minister John Key asked the nation’s 4.5 million people to join in a show of unity for people “enduring tragedy beyond what most of us can imagine”.

Police have so far pulled 154 bodies from the wreckage, and authorities said the death toll could be at high as 240.

The British High Commissioner to New Zealand, Vicki Treadell, has been on the ground in Christchurch assisting nationals. She said: “With New Zealand and Britain being such close friends, this is an opportunity to support and assist each other at this time of crisis. We also have a large consular team on the ground who are providing full consular assistance to any British nationals that require it, and continue to work closely with New Zealand authorities during this difficult time.”

Two members of the DVI taskforce, including team leader Commander Nick Bracken from the Metropolitan Police, landed in the stricken South Island city on Monday, with a further eight of their colleagues due to arrive tomorrow.

So far, only one of the British victims’ names has been confirmed. Gregory Tobin, 25, a chef, from Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, had been on a round-the-world trip and was believed to have been working temporarily at a garage in Christchurch when the devastation struck.

Chartered accountant Phil Coppeard, 41, from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, who emigrated to the country in November with his wife Suzanne Craig, was travelling into town on a bus when the tremors ripped through the city earlier this week. He has been missing ever since.

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