NZ counts its dead as hopes of finding survivors recede

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Natasha ChakuMelbourne, Feb 24 (PTI) Rescue workers in New Zealandrefused to give up on the hope of finding miracle survivors,frantically searching through the debris in Christchurch wherethe death toll in the 6.5 temblor went up to 76 and chances offinding people alive kept receding.

New Zealand Police Minister Judith Collins said thatthere were 76 bodies in the morgue but "more are comingthrough".

Police said 238 were missing after the earthquake hitthe city. A further 164 people have been hospitalised withinjuries ranging from major crash, head and neck and spinaltrauma, and broken bones.

Rescue crews, however, refused to give up on finding"miracle" survivors even as their efforts were tempered by thegrim business of extracting bodies.

Search and rescue teams from New South Wales are incharge of the Pyne Gould Corporation building, which, alongwith the Canterbury TV building, is one of the worst affected.

"We won''t give up... We have had instances all overthe world where you have the miracle, someone who is foundtwo, three days later," operations officer David Lewis wasquoted as saying by latest media reports.

As aftershocks continue to rock the city, New ZealandPrime Minister John Key, who declared a state of nationalemergency yesterday, conceded it would take a miracle to findmore survivors.

To add to the city''s woes, it may be without runningwater for months amid fears sewerage has seeped into cracks inwater-supply pipes.

Forensic identification experts worked with search andrescue teams to retrieve newly discovered victims at bothscenes. Emergency authorities were relayed a text messagebelieved to have originated from inside the CTV building.

The search for survivors has broadened as many of theinner-city buildings failed to yield any of those trapped.

Lewis said the search would continue until there wasno hope left. "We just keep going with the fact that we willfind someone... Until such time as we know we have checked allthe areas, we will keep going," he said.

Lewis estimated they had searched about 60 per cent ofthe building where it was possible to gain access.

At the CTV building, where as many as 48 foreignlanguage students are feared buried, including many Japanesenationals, the rescue effort has been bolstered by the arrivalof Japan''s disaster relief team. Police had earlier describedthe CTV building as not survivable.

With the death toll expected to rise, Key urged peopleto be realistic about the prospect of finding survivors afterthe country''s deadliest natural disaster in 80 years.

"That does not mean that there can''t and won''t bepeople trapped in buildings," said Key, who had described thedisaster as possibly New Zealand''s darkest day.

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