The bodies of Britons killed in the New Zealand earthquake are set to be flown home from early next week, with authorities still working to identify the victims.
A British taskforce of disaster victim identification experts is due to arrive in the South Island city of Christchurch on Monday to help identify the bodies after the earthquake death toll soared to 145, with 200 still missing.
Two Britons are confirmed to be among the victims, with the number expected to rise in the coming days.
But New Zealand authorities must formally identify them before their bodies can be repatriated, a Foreign Office source said.
A British specialist rescue team has arrived in the devastated city to help search for survivors among the flattened buildings.
Deployed after New Zealand accepted an offer of help from the British Government, they have been working among the ruins of the Pyne Gould Corporation building in the centre of the city. The British High Commission said the UK was “only too willing to help”.
Engineers and planners said the city’s decimated central area may be completely unusable for months to come and that at least a third of the buildings must be demolished and rebuilt after last Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude quake.
Among the British families waiting for news of their loved ones caught up in the disaster is 44-year-old Jo Morley, whose brother, Phil Coppeard, 41, from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, is among the missing Britons after emigrating to the country in November. He was travelling on a bus when the earthquake struck.
“Of course you still hope, as anybody would do,” she said. “That’s what we have to think.”
British victim 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. The identity of the other British victim, also male, has not been confirmed.