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New Zealand earthquake toll surges to 145 dead

Mountaineer saved 14 from quake-hit NZ tower
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 26, 2011 - A climbing enthusiast trapped in an office block wrecked during the New Zealand earthquake has told how he used his mountaineering skills to help 14 people abseil to safety before making his own escape. John Haynes was on the sixth floor of the 17-storey Forsyth Barr tower in downtown Christchurch when the quake hit Tuesday, sending debris crashing through the building and leaving a gaping hole where the internal stairwell once stood. "The guts of the building fell down 17 storeys. We just had a shell of a building," the 64-year-old government worker told the Christchurch Press.

Stranded in the darkness and fearing the structure would collapse or be engulfed by flames, Haynes racked his brains for a way to get out. His training as a mountaineer kicked in as he examined emergency equipment, including ropes and a sledgehammer, installed in the building in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Haynes persuaded his terrified colleagues that the only way to escape was to abseil 20 metres (66 feet) down the face of the building to the top of a ground floor car park, where they would be able to make their way to safety.

They used the sledgehammer to smash a window, letting in "a great flood of light", and Haynes used two ropes to begin lowering people down in an perilous two-hour operation. He wrapped the ropes around his body to ensure they did not slip through his fingers and sat on the office floor so the weight of those being lowered did not pull him out of the window, as aftershocks continued to rock the building. "It's like you were in a war zone with the shells coming over as you're still trying to do your job," he said. After the last of his colleagues reached safety, Haynes prepared for his own descent but by that time rescuers had spotted what was happening and sent a crane to get him out.

Haynes insisted he was not a hero, saying he simply felt "a real sense of satisfaction that I was able to look after those people and get them safely away". "Their lives were in my hands, and that's a hell of a responsibility." he told the Press. The 6.3-magnitude earthquake wreckage large parts of Christchurch's city centre and some outlying suburbs, leaving at least 145 dead with grave fears for another 200 missing.
by Staff Writers
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 26, 2011
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key warned the country may be facing its greatest tragedy Saturday as the death toll from this week's earthquake surged to 145, with 200 missing.

Key said Tuesday's tremor, which toppled office buildings and rained debris on busy Christchurch streets, "may be New Zealand's single most tragic event", outstripping a 1931 quake which killed 256.

Entire blocks will have to be razed after the catastrophe, which left up to a third of the city centre facing demolition along with parts of outlying suburbs, and cut power and water supplies to most of the 390,000 population.

Key, who met relatives of those dead and missing in the stricken city, announced a tribute of two minutes' silence on March 1, one a week after the quake struck at 12:51 pm on Tuesday.

He said the silence was was a chance "to stop and remember those who have lost their lives, those who are missing, and the hundreds of people who are mourning family and friends".

Key said relatives were fearing the worst, three days after a taskforce of hundreds of rescuers scouring the twisted wreckage last detected any signs of life.

"I think it's fair to say they fear the worst but there is still a glimmer of hope," he said. "They are full of fear because a significant period of time has elapsed."

Police said 145 bodies had been taken to a temporary morgue, and there were "grave concerns" for the 200 listed as missing. They include a large number of Asian students feared lost in a collapsed language school.

"We do not think (anyone) could have survived what took place in that building," Key said of the flattened CTV centre where the school was located.

Officials warned Christchurch may be unable to host the Rugby World Cup which takes place in September and October.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee urged the city to be "realistic" about holding World Cup matches after widespread damage to infrastructure and facilities, including 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.

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. The venue has been closed for two weeks for checks.

Stadium officials also reported serious damage around the venue, which is just two kilometres (just over a mile) from the 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 have to 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."

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 were being put in place to help ward off the threat of disease.

A remarkable survival tale emerged Friday, as a 64-year-old climbing enthusiast told how he helped 14 people abseil to safety before making his own escape from the wreckage of an office block.

"The guts of the building fell down 17 storeys. We just had a shell of a building," said mountaineer John Haynes who decided to use emergency equipment including ropes and a sledgehammer installed in the building.

Having persuaded his terrified colleagues that the only way to escape was to abseil 20 metres (66 feet) down the face of the building, he wrapped the ropes around his body and lowered them down as aftershocks rocked the building.

At the end of the ordeal, rescuers arrived and plucked him to safety with a crane.

Haynes insisted he was not a hero, saying he simply felt "a real sense of satisfaction that I was able to look after those people and get them safely away".




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NZealand says one-third of quake city faces demolition
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 ... read more

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