123 dead, 200 missing in New Zealand quake (Lead)

February 26th, 2011 - 12:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Christchurch, Feb 26 (IANS) The toll in a devastating earthquake in New Zealand’s second largest city of Christchurch Saturday rose to 123 as rescuers worked feverishly to look for 200 people who were still missing.Police said the toll is expected to rise further.

Superintendent Dave Cliff told a media conference Saturday morning that 123 people had been confirmed dead. “We do expect that number to rise today.”

Two-hundred people remained missing, including nationals from more than 20 countries, New Zealand Herald reported.

Cliff said rescue teams were still operating in the two building sites, and at the Christchurch Cathedral, where work was temporarily halted due to falling masonry.

Rescue teams were still working elsewhere in the city, looking through lifts, he said. A 6.3 magnitude quake struck the city Feb 22 bringing death and destruction in the aftermath.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said people needed to steel themselves for the toll to rise considerably in the coming days.

“It’s a sad morning with the confirmed death toll now up to 123 people,” Parker said. “This will not get easy in a hurry.”

But he said rescuers remained focused.

“This might be a Saturday, and it might be that we haven’t had good news stories we were hoping for in terms of finding people … but for us this is just as important a day as the first day, the second day, the third day,” Parker said.

He said 329 people were in welfare centres Friday night, and that number was dropping as people left to stay with friends and family.

Parker said that of the 1,000 buildings that had been checked in the central business district, 60 percent had been deemed to be safe, 17 percent had been assessed as safe to access, but 20 to 25 percent had been evacuated and deemed unsafe.

In the suburbs, 341 houses had also been red-stickered and evacuated. Another 500 had only limited access. More probe into the extent of damage to houses would be done Saturday, Parker said.

No trapped people have been found alive in the devastated city since Wednesday afternoon.

But Police Superintendent Russell Gibson earlier told Sky News the 10 international search teams working in the city were adamant that people could still be found in rubble nearly four days after the quake, the Herald reported.

He said police reinforcements were being brought in from around the country to relieve the Christchurch officers who had injured family members or damaged homes.

Some officers have had to come to work despite having loved ones still on the list of those missing in the city, the daily quoted Gibson as saying.

There have been eight aftershocks in Christchurch since early Saturday, GNS Science reported.

The biggest was a 4.1 magnitude aftershock that struck at 6.52 a.m. at a depth of nine km within five km of the city.

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