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Quake Damage May Force Rebuilding of New Zealand City

Maree, left, daughter Jasmine, center, and Norm Butcher take a look at their destroyed home in Christchurch, New Zealand , February 26, 2011

New Zealand authorities say as much as one-third of the city center of Christchurch may have to be demolished and rebuilt, in the aftermath of Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

The central business district of New Zealand's second biggest city was the hardest hit area in the 6.3 magnitude quake. Numerous buildings crumbled or collapsed one floor on top of another. Engineers said Saturday the district could be completely unusable for months while the wreckage is cleared and weakened structures are torn down.

The death toll from the disaster has risen to 145, with little hope that the more than 200 others listed as missing will be found alive.

Prime Minister John Key said the disaster may prove to be the country's "single most tragic event," eclipsing a 1931 quake that killed 256.

Mr. Key said the government on Monday would announce a financial assistance plan for the estimated 50,000 people who will be out of work because of the quake. He spent part of Saturday afternoon talking to families who lost loved ones in the disaster.

The prime minister said the country would observe two minutes of silence on Tuesday as a tribute to the victims and the ordeal of the survivors.

Mr. Key said there was "still a glimmer of hope" that survivors might be found. But he acknowledged that relatives of the missing fear the worst.

While hundreds of police, soldiers and other continue to comb the wreckage, survival stories are now being recounted as well.

A 64-year-old climbing enthusiast, who was trapped in one of the office buildings, said he helped 14 people escape by lowering them down the face of the building. Mountaineer John Haynes said that as aftershocks rocked the building, he used emergency ropes he found stored in the remains of the building to help them descend.

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