Relatives of people still missing three days after an earthquake shattered the New Zealand city of Christchurch arrived from several countries to join an anxious vigil for news that looked increasingly likely to be grim.
The official death toll continued to climb, to 113, and officials said rescue teams had pulled nothing but bodies from the rubble of collapsed buildings for 48 hours.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the government was preparing to give family members from several countries some bad news.
An English language school was in one of the hardest-hit buildings, the CTV office block, and students from Japan, China, the Philippines and other nations are believed to be among those inside when it collapsed.
Police say up to 120 bodies are still inside and that no-one is expected to have survived. Many relatives of the missing arrived at Christchurch airport, including about 20 from Japan, who were quickly whisked onto a bus by embassy officials.
In the arrivals hall, Danny Campos, 27, waited for his uncle’s flight from Australia. The family is originally from Peru and Mr Campos’ aunt, Elsa Torres, was a translator at the language school and is among the missing.
We’re “hoping that she’s alive, but unfortunately, we just have to sit down and wait,” he said.
Officials insisted that the massive effort involving more than 700 specialist teams from New Zealand and a host of other countries was a search and rescue operation, though they conceded it has turned more to the recovery of bodies.
“We are still hopeful that there still may be people rescued but it’s getting less and less likely,” Civil Defence Minister John Carter told reporters.
Work teams began gingerly picking through the piles of crumbled stone of Christchurch Cathedral, where the spire tower collapsed and where officials have said up to 22 bodies may lay entombed. The Christchurch City Council said workers started removing loose masonry from the site to allow recovery teams in to retrieve the bodies.