25 Feb 2011

Pledge to return bodies of Christchurch quake victims as soon as possible

2:11 pm on 25 February 2011

New Zealand's chief coroner says his staff will work to return the bodies of victims of the Christchurch earthquake to their families as soon as possible.

The death toll from the disaster has risen to 113, but so far only a few bodies have so far been released to families.

The chief coroner Judge Neil MacLean says his staff are preparing to receive potentially hundreds of bodies, and it's incredibly important to make sure they're correctly identified with the use of forensic evidence.

"The team that we rely on the odontologists, the pathologists, the DNA, the finger print specialists etc, have to do their task and we're reliant on that coming through to us and then we'll process it as quickly as possible."

No more survivors have been pulled from damaged buildings.

But about 200 people remain unaccounted for and Paul Baxter from the Fire Service says finding survivors remains the key focus of the six hundred searchers from around the world who are working night and day.

We have a large challenge ahead to get through all of those buildings and make sure that any possible life is still a priority as far as our crews resource and tasking goes.

Twenty English language students from China are among the dozens trapped in the CTV building - one of the worst hit in the city.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy, Wang Xin, says the police have told them to prepare for the worst.

For those trapped in the debris of the CTV building, according to the police of Christchurch, the survival chance would be very grim.

The Canterbury District Health Board chief executive, David Meates, says many of the 164 people admitted to hospital after the earthquake are still in hospitals around the country.

A number of those are still in critical condition, a number are still in intensive care units both here and Wellington, Waikato and Auckland.

Health authorities say 80 percent of sewage is going into rivers, estuaries and streams in Christchurch, and half of homes have no water.

But the Orion electricity company says it hopes power will soon be restored to 80 percent of the city.

And Civil Defence head John Hamilton has assured people they will not run out of food or fuel, as supplies are coming in.

There is certainly no need for people to try to take slightly risky steps if they were trying to store petrol in particular because they though there was going to be insufficient supply.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister John Key has not ruled out imposing a nationwide tax to help rebuild Christchurch, similar to that imposed in Australia following this year's floods.

And the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce says a financial relief package is urgently needed to ensure the survival of companies closed due to the devastating earthquake.

A leader of the Tuvaluan community in Christchurch says the trauma of the quake has led some in the small community of about 20 people to consider leaving the city permanently.

The president of the Tuvaluan community group, Bill Teo, says one family in the community has suffered damage to their home and has moved in with another Tuvaluan family.

Mr Teo says apart from that the community has been physically unaffected.

But he says the psychological impact of the quake and the damage it has caused are making people think about moving to other parts of New Zealand.

I personally am thinking of moving out permanently, it's just too bad an experience to flash back on and it's just not worth taking the risk anymore. There are some Tuvaluans, they are thinking of moving out. But when that will happen I'm not sure.

Bill Teo says when the quake struck he was in a building in Cathedral Square, which was like a warzone with concrete, glass and dust everywhere and people bleeding and shouting.