Quake death toll reaches 145

11:42 pm on 26 February 2011

The confirmed death toll from the Christchurch earthquake rose to 145 on Saturday evening, while the number of missing people remains unchanged at more than 200.

Police say they expect this number to continue to rise as search and rescue teams find more and more bodies in the ruins.

The Fire Service says it will continue to look for victims in the rubble, though no one was found alive on Saturday.

Superintendent Dave Cliff says a temporary mortuary has been set up at Burnham military camp to identify bodies.

Mr Cliff says police held a briefing on Saturday afternoon for the families of those who have died. Thirty family liaison teams have been contacting families in New Zealand and overseas.

Safety checks

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said that of the 1,000 buildings within the city's four avenues, just 600 were safe to enter. Between 200 and 250 buildings had been issued with a red sticker, meaning they are unsafe to enter. Some may be in danger of imminent collapse.

Outside the central business district, 4600 buildings have been checked, of which 341 were been deemed unsafe.

Officials said the central city would be closed for months, and in the meantime patrols would monitor the area round the clock.

In the suburb of Mt Pleasant, 30 residents were evacuated when their Soleares Avenue homes were deemed unsafe. They spent Friday night in welfare centres.

Increasingly, the focus of the emergency operation is shifting to the city's eastern suburbs.

Mr Parker said residents in the east of Christchurch have felt isolated, but everything was being done to help. He reiterated that the task ahead was immense.

Paul Baxter from the Fire Service said more than 600 search and rescue workers were at work, among them teams from Australia, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, the United States, Britain and China.

Aftershocks cause more damage

A series of aftershocks overnight on Friday caused more damage to buildings in the central city. More than a dozen aftershocks have occurred since 5.40pm on Friday, ranging from 3.0 to 4.4 in magnitude.

Buildings that sustained further damage included the old Girls High building on Park Terrace, St Elmo's Court in Hereford St and the Knox Church on Bealey Avenue.

Removal of unstable masonry from Christchurch cathedral stopped on Friday evening due to the aftershocks but resumed on Saturday.

Five days after the earthquake, half of Christchurch still has no mains water supply, while power has been reconnected to 80% of the city.

Lines company Orion chief executive Roger Sutton says damage in hill suburbs such as Sumner is not as bad as had been feared.

Teams continue work in suburbs

Eighty four-member teams are checking the houses and welfare needs of residents.

Based on a helicopter view of the city, Operation Suburb's focus on Saturday was the eastern suburbs, including New Brighton, Avonside, Parklands, St Martins, Opawa, Redcliffs, Sumner and Lyttelton.

Extra police on streets

More police were being deployed on Saturday as 323 Australian officers, who arrived and were sworn in on Friday, went into the field. They brought the number of officers working in Christchurch to 1200.

Superintendent Russell Gibson said police would clamp down on any theft or looting.

"There are a number of people who have left town, they've gone away, their homes are insecure," Mr Gibson said. "We don't know whether there's been looting or theft from those places, but we are going to be there to make sure there won't be any more."

He said officers were also being brought in from other areas of New Zealand, in the hope of allowing some Canterbury police to stand down.

Teams of soldiers have been delivering supplies to welfare centres and helping distribute water in New Brighton and Lyttelton.

The commander of the third Land Force Group in Burnham, Colonel Roger Mcelwain, says 300 soldiers are deployed at any one time and have also been providing security in the city centre and suburbs.

Two arrests were made on Friday night. One person inside the city cordon had stolen cigarettes and another drove into the cordon and charged with drink-driving.