Hopes are fading of finding more survivors in the collapsed buildings of New Zealand’s quake-shattered Christchurch, as officials said the death toll had risen to 113 with grave fears for more than 200 missing.
Police said up to 120 bodies may still lie trapped in the tangled concrete and steel that was the Canterbury Television or CTV building, where dozens of students from Japan, Thailand, China and other Asian countries were believed buried when an English-language school collapsed along with other offices.
Two Britons have been confirmed among the dead from Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude quake. An additional 228 people were listed as missing, and prime minister John Key said there were “grave fears” that many of them did not survive.
“We are very fearful that the death toll could be much greater than any of us have ever feared,” Mr Key said, adding that there were dozens of “international people that are caught up in this tremendous tragedy”.
Rescue efforts so far had focused on the CTV building and a handful of other major office complexes that crumbled in the town centre, but work at those sites was shifting to the recovery of bodies while the remaining rescue efforts fanned out further from the centre of town.
Christchurch police superintendent Russell Gibson said the operation had become one of body recovery, though he rejected suggestions that rescuers were abandoning hope of finding anyone alive after the quake, which occurred at lunchtime local time on Tuesday.
Mr Key has declared the quake a national disaster, and analysts estimate its cost at up to 12 billion US dollars (£7.3 billion).
The names of some of those killed in the quake are expected to be released later, however, sources said it could be a month before all the names of the dead have been released as the severity of injuries means DNA and fingerprints may have to be used to identify bodies.
Teams rushed in from Britain, Australia, the United States and Japan and elsewhere in Asia, along with a military field hospital and workers to help repair power, water and phone lines in the South Island city.
A 55-strong search and rescue team, drawn from the British emergency fire and rescue services, was due to arrive in Christchurch on Thursday.