Quake bodies 'may never be found'

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Police officers conduct a search of earthquake damaged buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand

The bodies of some victims of New Zealand’s devastating earthquake may never be recovered because they were pulverised by the buildings that collapsed around them, police said.

Superintendent Dave Cliff said four more bodies had been pulled from rubble by recovery teams in the shattered city of Christchurch overnight, bringing the latest tally to 159.

But many more people remain missing and Mr Cliff has said the final tally is likely to be around 240.

More than 900 urban disaster specialists were working at sites across the southern city, picking through the remains of wrecked buildings and clearing away debris, as the massive operation moved into its second week.

No-one has been pulled alive from the rubble since 26 hours after the February 22 quake and authorities are pessimistic about finding any other survivors.

The operation to recover bodies has been slowed by near-constant aftershocks that have rumbled through the city, threatening to bring further debris raining down from damaged buildings.

Authorities have appealed for patience from families waiting for news of missing relatives, saying that the remains of some people caught in falling buildings can be identified only through DNA testing or dental records.

“There may be some cases where, because of the enormous forces involved in this, that it may not be possible to retrieve bodies in all cases,” Mr Cliff said. “We need to alert people to that possibility.”

Strong winds are hampering rescue and recovery operations, threatening to bring down bricks and masonry from already-damaged buildings and spreading clouds of dust around the city.

The magnitude 6.3 quake struck within a few miles of central Christchurch, when the city was bustling with workers, shoppers and tourists going about their weekday afternoon activities. It brought down or badly damaged office towers, churches and thousands of homes across the city.

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