New Zealand may seek additional help to find more than 200 missing people in Christchurch following a 6.3-magnitude earthquake, as search-and-rescue efforts in the nation’s second-largest city enter a fifth day.
“We will be needing more help before this is over,” Foreign Minister Murray McCully told reporters yesterday. “No country can have on hand the sort of expert resources in the area of urban search and rescue which would enable it to cope with the scope of the quake we saw.”
About 500 search-and-rescue workers are operating in Christchurch, including teams from Australia, the U.S., Taiwan, Japan and Singapore. A team of 10 rescuers from China and the remainder of a 55-strong U.K. team joined the search yesterday, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade.
The death toll is at least 145 people and there are still at least 200 people missing, Police Superintendent Dave Cliff said today. Many foreigners were caught in the quake, including students at an English-language school, McCully said.
“You’ve now got what is looking like a very significant fatality toll,” Prime Minister John Key said in an interview with Television New Zealand yesterday. “That is really unnerving people and rightfully so.”
Rescue workers from Japan were helping in recovery efforts at the Canterbury Television building, where a number of Japanese students attended the King’s Education school.
“The team has worked really hard,” Hisashi Tokunaga, Japan’s parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs, told Television New Zealand after arriving in Christchurch. “We still have some hope that we are going to have the Japanese people rescued.”
Twenty-one Chinese students are missing, with eight of the unaccounted buried in the CTV building, China Central Television reported earlier this week, citing local police. Officials estimate that people from 20 countries are amongst the missing, Television New Zealand reported, without saying where it got the information.
“There are an awful lot of people around the world who are deeply concerned about loved ones,” Cliff told reporters yesterday. “Let them know where you are and that you’re safe.”
Christchurch has been shaken by dozens of aftershocks since the initial quake and may experience more temblors greater than magnitude 5 in coming days, according to the Civil Defense website. The tremors threaten to topple buildings already weakened, prompting estimates that many central business district structures need replacement.
“Its extensive, there’s no doubt about that,” Gerry Brownlee, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister told Television New Zealand. “The expectation would be that for some months all of the services that operate in the CBD will need to relocate elsewhere.”
On the streets of Christchurch yesterday, piles of silt forced up by a process where soil loses its strength after violent shaking were stacked meters high awaiting collection.
“There may be four or five times as much silt on the streets of Christchurch today as there was in September”, Brendan Burns, a Labor Party parliamentarian who represents the Christchurch Central electorate, said in an interview yesterday.
The death toll from the quake is the worst since the Napier earthquake in 1931 that killed 256. This week’s quake came less than six months after a 7-magnitude temblor rocked Christchurch in the early morning of Sept. 4.
The earlier quake, in which no one was killed, caused widespread damage to the city. The destruction and mounting economic costs also follow the death of 29 miners after an explosion at a coal mine at Pike River on New Zealand’s South Island in November.
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