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Foreign rescuers begin to leave Christchurch

by Staff Writers
Christchurch (AFP) March 4, 2011
International rescue crews were pulling out of Christchurch as emergency operations in the stricken city shifted from finding earthquake survivors to recovering bodies, officials said Friday.

More than 400 urban search and rescue specialists from around the world rushed to New Zealand's second largest city after last week's 6.3-magnitude quake flattened office buildings, killing scores of people.

They combed the city's ruins with sensitive listening devices and sniffer dogs for more than a week but found no signs of life after February 23, a day after the deadly tremor, when a woman was pulled from the rubble.

The exhausted crews had now begun returning home, New Zealand Fire Service assistant commissioner Paul Baxter said, thanking them for their efforts.

"We do have some physically and emotionally drained people and we need to consider their welfare," he told reporters.

A team from Taiwan flew home Thursday, the same day officials declared there was no longer any hope of finding anyone alive, while half of Japan's contingent left Wednesday.

Rescuers from China and about half the US team were due to depart next Tuesday, while others from Singapore and Britain were yet to finalise how long they would remain, officials said.

The death toll stood at 163 Friday, but there was a little solace for the shattered city as officials said they expected a final tally to be "in excess of 200", down from previous estimates of 240 and 220.

While officials say rebuilding Christchurch will take at least a decade, Prime Minister John Key said the immediate priority was looking after people living in "utter devastation without sewerage, power and other services.

"You can appreciate what they are going through -- basic things like toilets, water and power are necessities of life," he said after meeting residents in some of the worst-hit suburbs.

"It's not a simple matter of plugging back the power, there are breakages to cables all over the place, miles of silt, broken roads and buildings."

Mafutaga Manuleleua said she was concerned about the health of her children, who were traumatised by the quake and had been forced to relieve themselves in the garden.

"I need to be strong for my children but it's not easy," she told national news agency NZPA.

"The thing we need the most is water to get everything clean. We're feeling left out and I'm worried that after this everyone is going to get sick."

With meteorologists predicting a cold snap and heavy rain over the weekend, emergency crews worked to patch up damaged houses with tarpaulins and provide for those forced to flee their homes.

Civil defence said a "tent city" capable of housing 400 people was being sent from Australia.

Mobile shower blocks were also being erected and more than 1,000 portable toilets had been installed around the city, with the majority having been brought in from the United States.

Other residents have been given camping-style chemical toilets for their homes and the city's coast has been declared off limits after the council was forced to pump raw sewage into the sea.

Many will have no jobs to go to when the crisis is eventually lifted, with the government revealing Friday that 2,700 people in the city had already signed up for emergency unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, seismologists said two large tremors measuring 4.5 and 4.7 in the capital this week were unrelated to the Christchurch catastrophe and were not a precursor to another major quake.

"It's just a bit of a coincidence," GeoNet seismologist John Ristau said.

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'Ten years to rebuild' quake-hit New Zealand city
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) March 3, 2011
It will take at least 10 years to rebuild Christchurch, officials said Thursday, warning it would be months before they could even begin to reopen the quake-hit New Zealand city. The timeline, outlining the scale of damage to the country's second largest city, came as the death toll from last week's devastating quake rose to 161, with expectations it will rise to more than 240. Civil Def ... read more

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