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New Zealand Quake Death Toll Certain to Rise

Emergency workers are lifted into the remains of the Pyne Gould Guinness building, which was destroyed following earthquake, in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch, February 23, 2011

The death toll from Tuesday's massive earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand looks certain to rise -- with authorities saying there is no longer any hope of finding survivors in a collapsed five-story building there.

Seventy-five people are confirmed dead from the quake. But officials told tearful friends and families of those inside the five-story building that no one would be found alive under the rubble.

Among those inside were at least 12 students from Japan, South Korea, India and China attending an international language school in the building.


The grim news came as aftershocks continued to rattle the city and rescue workers focused on a small number of collapsed buildings where they still hoped to find survivors among the 300 people still missing. Seismologists have counted more than 70 aftershocks since the quake struck Tuesday afternoon, and say the temblors are likely to continue for weeks.

Christchurch Police Inspector John Price told VOA that authorities are worried that the shaking will bring down more buildings or cause already unstable ones to collapse. He said offers of assistance are pouring in from various countries -- including Australia, the United States, Britain, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore.

Authorities said it is hoped that many of the missing may simply be cut off by the collapse of telephone and electrical systems.


Price said six people have been arrested for burglary and looting.

The United States said it is deploying a disaster response team, including more than 70 specialized personnel and equipment. Japan also dispatched a disaster relief team Wednesday of about 70 rescue workers, along with some 20 policemen and rescue dogs.

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.

Previous quake

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.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.