Quake death toll climbs to 75, hundreds missing

8:40 pm on 23 February 2011

The confirmed death toll from a devastating earthquake in Christchurch stands at 75, with hundreds reported missing on Wednesday.

The 6.3-magnitude quake struck at 12.51pm on Tuesday, 10km south-east of the central city. A national state of emergency has been declared.


Canterbury district police commander Superintendent Dave Cliff

says 300 people have been reported missing - but that does not mean they are all victims of the quake, as they could just be uncontactable.

Specialised rescue teams are working in many locations including the central city where the Pyne Gould building and the Cathedral have been severely damaged.

Teams of staff are assessing damaged sites in Sumner and Lyttelton and police expect a team of 1000 will be conducting search and rescue operations by Thursday morning.

About 65 bodies are at a temporary morgue at the central police station. A morgue is being set up at Burnham Military Camp.

Superintendent Cliff says the victim identification process is complex, and involves checking DNA, dental records and fingerprints before letting next-of-kin identify victims.

Mr Cliff says it is important that process is followed because mistakes have been made in the past when distraught family members have wrongly identified loved-ones.

Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend says this is the nightmare that did not happen in on 4 September last year when a 7.1-magnitude quake caused extensive damage but didn't kill anyone.

The Fire Service's head of special operations, Jim Stewart-Black, says more than 200 search and rescue personnel are on the ground, with more overseas teams due to arrive throughout Wednesday.

People should call 0800 RED CROSS or or 0800 733 276 if they have reported someone missing who has since been found.

Central city shut down and cordoned off

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says the central city will be shut down on Wednesday and will stay that way for a significant amount of time.

Mr Parker says a cordon manned by military personnel is in place around the four avenues surrounding the central area, and there is no way it will be lifted in the immediate future.

Civil Defence is urging sightseers to stay out of the central city, as they are slowing down emergency vehicles, particularly at intersections.

It says the central city needs to remain as clear as possible for those helping with the rescue effort.