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 Defence head John Hamilton confirmed that officials now believed there were no more survivors trapped beneath the mountains of rubble across the city.
The last person found alive was pulled from a pancaked office block on Wednesday last week, a day after the 6.3 magnitude quake.
"As time has gone on, the chance of finding someone alive has diminished and, sadly, there becomes a point where the response effort shifts in focus from rescue to body recovery. We have now reached that point," Hamilton said.
New Zealand's acting Economic Development Minister David Carter said it would take "more than 10 years" to rebuild Christchurch, the main gateway to the country's South Island.
He said work would get under way quickly but "it's a big project".
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said the central business district (CBD) would remain closed for months, and across the city 22,000 households remain without electricity.
"You can see with the level of damage that we have in the CBD that it is going to be some months before it is going to be reopened," he told a media briefing.
"However, in terms of putting a timeline on what that is, we just don't have information at this stage."
However, Parker said the city was determined to host Rugby World Cup matches this year as scheduled.
Christchurch is to host five pool games and two quarter-finals in the Cup, which begins on September 9.
"Utterly, absolutely, totally committed to that," he said, although the city's rugby venue AMI Stadium will remain closed until at least March 15 while operators check the extent of damage there.
There is also a question mark over several inner-city hotels that are awaiting assessment by engineers.
"We have to be pragmatic and realistic and accommodation is one of the issues that is concerning us," Parker said.
"AMI Stadium is going to be fine for the Rugby World Cup and we are determined to make it happen here in Christchurch."
Police for the first time have released the names of two foreigners killed in the earthquake, they were Israelis Ofir Levy, 22, and Gabi Ingel, 23.
An Israeli search and rescue group organised by their families was refused entry to the security cordon surrounding the worst affected areas of the city.
Prime Minister John Key said that was because they were not United Nations-accredited and because it was felt there were enough rescue teams at work.
Key also announced a national memorial service would be held in Christchurch within weeks for the victims of the earthquake.
"All of us held on to hope there would be a miracle, but sadly today's announcement confirms that we must now confront the permanence of that loss," Key said.
"At an appropriate time in the coming weeks we will hold a national memorial service in Christchurch to honour those who have died."
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Massive dust storm hits quake-hit Christchurch
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) March 2, 2011
Strong winds whipped up huge dust clouds in earthquake-hit Christchurch Wednesday, as officials defended the devastated city's building standards. Gusts of 70 kilometres per hour (44 mph) buffeted emergency crews in the ruins of New Zealand's second largest city, hampering the search for bodies amid fears of masonry dislodging and trees toppling. "In some places it was difficult to stand ... read more
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