Christchurch earthquake: Recovery hampered by weather

A rescuer worker wears a face mask in Christchurch. Photo: 2 March 2011
Image caption Rescuers are using face masks to protect themselves from the silt and sand

Strong winds and dust storms are hampering recovery work as the search for the bodies of those killed by last week's devastating earthquake in Christchurch continues.

Police Superintendent Dave Cliff warned that it might not be possible to recover all the dead from crushed buildings in New Zealand's second city.

The death toll now stands at 160, but Mr Cliff said could it climb up to 240.

Rebuilding costs are put at billions of dollars.

Residents have been using face masks as strong winds - up to 70km/h (44mph) - have whipped up the silt and debris coating the streets of the city, the centre of which remains unstable.

Loose bricks, planks and masonry are in danger of being blown around, creating new hazards, rescue officials say.

"The conditions have been difficult, the wind is picking up and it's very dusty in the inner city, which is making the rescue efforts more difficult," Mr Cliff told reporters.

"There may be some cases where, because of the enormous forces involved in this, that it may not be possible to retrieve bodies in all cases," he added. "We need to alert people to that possibility."

'Farmy Army'

Scores of foreign students - from Japan, China, Thailand and elsewhere - have not yet been found in the rubble of the Canterbury TV (CTV) Building.

Image caption Many residents have chosen to leave Christchurch while the process of reconstruction gets under way

A lawyer for the building's owners said a detailed structural engineers' report after last September's quake had found superficial damage to the building but raised no structural issues.

Radio New Zealand reported that last Tuesday's quake brought an estimated 200,000 tonnes of silt to the surface of the city, more than half of which has been cleared away.

However, the strengthening north-westerly winds have been drying the silt and kicking up clouds of dust, it said.

Student volunteers and about 600 farmers - calling themselves the Farmy Army - were on the streets helping clear away more of the silt.

A massive steel frame designed to brace the front wall of the Christchurch Cathedral has been put in place. It is hoped this will enable rescue workers to enter the site.

Rescuers at the Grand Chancellor hotel, which is visibly listing, have so far reached the 10th of 26 floors searching for bodies.

In the outlying district of Sumner, at least 60 homes have been pronounced unsafe because of fears the cliff they are on will fall away; the residents have been told to leave.

Among the hundreds of local and foreign rescue workers, a second team of firefighters and paramedics from Queensland, Australia - only recently hit by severe flooding - was on its way to Christchurch.

Exodus fears

Business leaders have begun raising questions about the future of the city centre.

"Speed is going to be of the essence here," said Richard Ballantyne, executive director of the Ballantynes department store, long a landmark of central Christchurch.

"The longer the city is closed off, the more people will leave it, the more businesses will relocate, they'll set up in other areas, and they may like those areas and never come back to the city.

"Key decisions have to be made relatively quickly, in order to make sure that the confidence can be kept up to a level where people will feel that they can come back and build their businesses in the inner city. What those businesses will look like nobody knows at the moment."

It is estimated that up to a third of the city's buildings have been, or will have to be, demolished.

CLICKABLE Select the images for more details.

Bexley, Christchurch, New Zealand Pyne Gould Guinness, Christchurch, New Zealand Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand CTV, Christchurch, New Zealand Oxford terrace, Christchurch, New Zealand

Bexley

Bexley,  Christchurch, New Zealand

Streets in the north-eastern suburb of Bexley were flooded as the quake caused water mains to burst, which coincided with heavy rain.

Pyne Gould Guinness

Pyne Gould Guinness

The multi-storey Pyne Gould Guinness Building, which normally houses around 200 workers, collapsed. A number of people were thought to be trapped inside.

Cathedral

Cathedral,  Christchurch, New Zealand

The 63m spire of the city's Anglican cathedral was toppled by the earthquake. A New Zealand TV reporter took a look inside the damaged building.

CTV building

CTV building, Christchurch, New Zealand

Part of Christchurch's Canterbury Television [CTV] building completely collapsed in the earthquake. Some 24 people have been rescued from the building, but police said there might be between 60 and 120 bodies trapped underneath.

Oxford Terrace

Oxford terrace,  Christchurch, New Zealand

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Rhys Taylor took this video on Oxford Terrace, 50 metres away from the city's main hospital. He said: "Cars were being used as ambulances to transport the injured."

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