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Christchurch Rescuers Narrow Search for Survivors

Kent Manning, 15, and Libby Manning, 18, wait for news of their mother who is trapped in the CTV building in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the city was hit by a 6.3 earthquake on Tuesday, February 23, 2011

Rescue teams in New Zealand dug urgently on Wednesday through the rubble of a small number of collapsed buildings in Christchurch where they still hope to find survivors of Tuesday's powerful earthquake.

Authorities told tearful friends and families of the missing that there was no longer any hope of finding survivors in a collapsed five-story building that had housed an international language school and a leading television station.

As evening approached, the confirmed death toll stood at 75 with about 300 people unaccounted for, though many of those may simply be cut off by the collapse of telephone and electric systems across the New Zealand city.

Christchurch Police Inspector John Price says that rescue teams were concentrating on a handful of buildings in the central city where they still hoped to find people alive. He described witnessing the rescue earlier in the afternoon of a young woman who had been trapped for more than 24 hours in a small air pocket under one of the buildings.

Price said the teams had searched for signs of life in a building that housed a language school where more than a dozen students from Japan, China and South Korea were thought to be trapped. But he said it looks as though most of its occupants have been killed.

Wire agencies said authorities had given up hope of finding anyone alive in the building and turned their attention to more promising sites.

Authorities have cordoned off an area around the city of 350,000 to facilitate the search. Price says that the city is still being hit by regular aftershocks and police worry that the shaking will bring down more buildings or cause already unstable debris to collapse. He said six people have been arrested for burglary and looting.

Price said officials have received offers of assistance from several countries, including Australia, the United States, Britain, Taiwan and Singapore.

The United States said it is deploying a disaster response team, including more than 70 specialized personnel and equipment. Japan also announced it is sending a 70-member expert team.

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit shortly before 1:00 p.m. Tuesday, toppling many buildings and badly damaging the city's Christchurch Cathedral. News reports said a number of people were standing on the viewing platform of the cathedral when its 63 meter-tall stone spire collapsed.

Tuesday's earthquake was the second to rock Christchurch in five months. Because of its shallow depth and proximity to the city it was far deadlier than the September 7.1-magnitude quake.

Prime Minister John Key, who declared a national state of emergency early Wednesday, said the world may have witnessed "New Zealand's darkest day." The United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon expressed sadness for the loss of life and destruction of property in Christchurch and offered U.N. help in any way needed.