Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 26, 2011
New Zealand said Saturday one-third of Christchurch's city centre faces demolition after an earthquake killed at least 123, and warned it may be unable to host the Rugby World Cup.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee urged the stricken city to be "realistic" about holding World Cup matches in September and October after the 6.3-magnitude quake caused widespread damage, including to the rugby stadium.
"To lose the Rugby World Cup from Christchurch would be a massive blow," Brownlee told TVNZ. "I don't want to see it happen but we've got to be realistic about the prospect."
Rugby-mad Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest city, is one of the main venues for the seven-week competition, and is slated to hold two quarter-finals on October 8 and 9.
But Tuesday's quake reduced much of the city centre and some suburbs into ruins. Although Stadium Christchurch has only minor damage, the pitch has been hit by liquifaction, when soil becomes a quagmire due to the ground's shaking.
Stadium officials also reported serious damage around the venue, which is just two kilometres (just over a mile) from the rubble-strewn city centre -- where Christchurch's biggest hotel is tottering and in danger of collapse.
On Saturday, engineers said as much as a third of the central district, where office buildings folded like packs of cards and entire streets lost their shop frontages, may be demolished and rebuilt.
"We've collected some data over the past couple of days and it's looking like about one-third of the buildings (would be condemned)," Auckland University structural engineer Jason Ingham told TVNZ.
"We will have to prune this city and we'll have to prune it hard," city mayor Bob Parker told Sky News. "Entire blocks are going to have to go." Earthquake minister Brownlee said the centre may be closed for months.
Police raised the creeping death toll to 123 with more than 200 missing. Officials said the toll could rise sharply later, although some of the dead are likely to be included among those still unaccounted for.
Prime Minister John Key, who was raised in Christchurch, was due to visit families of the dead or missing Saturday on his latest trip to the disaster zone.
Power has now been restored to most of the city but many of its 390,000 residents are without water and relying on supplies brought by tanker.
Officials said more than 62,000 homes have no water supplies and 100,000 properties are without sewerage, while 800 portable toilets will soon be in place to help ward off the threat of disease.
Despite a major international search operation involving some 700 specialist personnel, no signs of life have been detected in the quake wreckage since Wednesday, when the last of about 70 survivors was rescued.
earlier related report
Police said the toll from Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake had reached 123 and warned the figure would rise, with more than 200 people still missing, many feared trapped in the ruins of New Zealand's second largest city.
Hundreds of search and rescue specialists from around the globe continued to meticulously pick through the debris aware that the last survivor was pulled out of the rubble on Wednesday afternoon.
"We haven't had some of the good news stories were hoping for," Christchurch mayor Bob Parker told reporters.
Office blocks folded like packs of cards, entire streets lost their shop frontages and the historic cathedral lost its spire, in the tremor, which followed another destructive quake last September.
Auckland University structural engineer Jason Ingham revealed the scale of the rebuilding task facing Christchurch's battered residents, saying an official survey indicated a third of downtown buildings would be condemned.
"We've collected some data over the past couple of days and it's looking like about one-third of the buildings," he told TVNZ.
Police said hopes of a miracle soared early Saturday when a paramedic reported hearing voices in the rubble, only to be dashed when the noise turned out to be rescuers.
Rescuers have ruled out finding survivors at Christchurch's landmark cathedral, where up to 22 people could be buried.
They also do not believe anyone remains alive under the collapsed CTV building, which housed a TV station and a busy language school for foreign students, and where as many as 120 people may have perished.
At least 26 Japanese nationals are feared dead in the building, which burst into flames after the quake, and a Japanese rescue team is frantically working on the site.
Despite the devastation, Japan's parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Hisashi Tokunaga, who is in Christchurch overseeing the country's contribution to the rescue effort, said his team remained optimistic.
"We still have strong hope that we are going to have Japanese people rescued," he told TVNZ via an interpreter.
The disaster prompted a mass exodus of terrified residents and left a damage bill estimated at NZ$10 billion ($7.5 billion).
The city's transport and water supply systems remain crippled. Electricity has been restored to most areas but fire authorities said turning on the power had ignited blazes in four damaged houses.
Police have expressed disgust at an outbreak of looting and scams, with some people posing as officials to gain access to homes. In one case, burglars struck at the home of a woman missing in the quake.
District commander Dave Cliff said drunken disorder was also on the rise in the city, where stressed residents have endured the two major earthquakes along with thousands of aftershocks.
Christchurch's Rugby World Cup stadium has been closed until March 15 to allow an assessment of damage and determine if it can still host games during this year's tournament, its operator Vbase said.
"We've got minor repairable structural damage, substantial damage to the surrounding streets and likely to services infrastructure," Vbase chief executive Bryan Pearson told AFP.
Meanwhile in London Prince William, his fiancee Kate Middleton and Prince Harry on Friday signed a condolence book for the victims of the earthquake as messages of support for Christchurch continued to pour in from around the world.
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Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 25, 2011
New Zealand warned frantic relatives to brace for the worst Friday as toiling rescuers failed to find any more survivors after a devastating earthquake left at least 113 dead. As rain hampered the painstaking search of the wreckage in Christchurch's city centre, Foreign Minister Murray McCully admitted: "The rescue focus is drawing towards a conclusion." "We're getting to the end of that ... read more
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