CHRISTCHURCH Feb 27 Rescuers pulled apart
levelled buildings in New Zealand's quake-hit city of
Christchurch on Sunday as the death toll climbed to 146 and
people gathered to pray that survivors will be found six days
after the devastating tremor.
Rescue teams from New Zealand and seven countries,
including the United States, China, Japan, and Australia,
have been scouring ruined buildings in the central city and
suburban areas hardest hit by Tuesday's 6.3 tremor -- but found
only the dead.
"They can see bodies that they are trying to get out,"
police shift commander Russell Gibson said.
The dead include people from 20 nations, including dozens
of students from Japan, China, and Taiwan who were in
Christchurch, one of New Zealand's most attractive cities, to
learn English in view of the country's dramatic southern Alps.
The city's mayor clung to the hope that more would be found
alive, even as aftershocks brought down masonry and sent rescue
teams scrambling for safety.
"I will not stop hoping that we will find people alive in
the damaged structures of our city until I am told by the
police and the urban search and rescue teams that no such
optimism can exist any longer," Bob Parker told reporters.
No survivors have been rescued since mid-afternoon on
Wednesday. The number of missing remains at more than 200, but
police have said it is likely that the number includes
recovered bodies that have yet to be identified.
Prime Minister John Key has called for a two-minute
national silence on March 1 as a sign of unity for the people
of Christchurch, New Zealand's second largest city, and to
grieve for people killed in the country's worst natural
disaster for 80 years.
"For now we must do all we can to show its people that all
of New Zealand grieves with them," said Key.
At the historic 155-year-old stone-built Holy Trinity
Anglican Church on the fringes of the devastated city centre,
Reverend Hugh Bowron said parishioners at the first service
since the quake were still stunned.
"The church was badly damaged in the last earthquake, and
won't be repairable now, so the sense of hope has taken on a
much grittier edge'" Bowron told Reuters.
"But most people were delighted just to be with each other,
just to know that others were still alive."
In the central city, the painstaking search concentrated on
a finance company office block, the city's landmark cathedral
and a local television building, which housed an English
Japanese, Chinese and English teams joined locals to pull
apart the buildings, where floors pancaked on top of each
other, brick by brick.
"What we're doing is removing the debris, we're looking for
voids or spaces where there may be the living," said fire
rescue head Jim Stuart Black.
Rescuers crawled through large steel tubes to get
into the core of the cathedral, where around 20 bodies are
Engineers were also moving to prop up the teetering
26-storey Hotel Grand Chancellor, which had hampered search
operations because of fears it would collapse and bring down
In the devastated eastern suburbs nearest the quake
epicentre, where hundreds of homes have been marked with red
tape for demolition, thousands of volunteers delivered food
parcels and water, and shovelled metre-deep grey silt that had
squirted through roads and gardens.
But there was frustration that relief and repair efforts in
the city of 400,000, New Zealand's second biggest, were not
happening fast enough.
"We're just trying to look out for one another. The
aftershocks are still sending us flying," said Dave Pascoe in
the poorer suburb of Aranui.
Making things worse was a string of burglaries by local
youths, Pascoe said.
A handful of people have been arrested for looting as
police, boosted by more than 300 officers from Australia, and
troops in armoured personnel carriers have locked down the city
centre and enforced a dusk to dawn curfew.
(Writing by Gyles Beckford; Editing by Sugita Katyal)