Recovery teams pulled two more bodies from the rubble of one of the worst-hit buildings in last week's earthquake in New Zealand, raising the confirmed death toll to 163, police said Friday. Authorities officially ended search and rescue operations in the stricken city of Christchurch on Thursday, saying there was no chance that anyone else would be pulled alive from the rubble of the Feb. 22 quake.
They say the job now is to recover bodies still jammed in the wreckage of broken buildings and to clean up and restore the downtown of the city of 350,000 people that has been shut down by the disaster.
Police Superintendent Sam Hoyle said Friday that two bodies were pulled overnight from the Pyne Gould Guinness building, taking the confirmed death toll to 163. He said the search for bodies was now over at that building, one of two office blocks that completely collapsed in the disaster.
Many more people are missing and officials expect the final number of dead to be more than 200.
Body recovery teams were still picking through the rubble of the other collapsed office block, the Canterbury Television building, but the operation was also nearing an end there, Hoyle said.
Teams were also working at the city's iconic cathedral, where up to 22 people were believed to have been caught in the church's spire tower when it collapsed in the quake. Workers had been prevented from starting work at the church for days because the site was so unstable. It was braced in recent days.
Meanwhile, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said an estimated 70,000 Christchurch residents - one-fifth of the population - had left the city since the quake, which cut power, water and sewage systems for large parts of the city. Most were expected to return as the city recovers.
Police have named seven more people who died in the disaster, including a Thai national.
Just 20 of the 163 bodies have been publicly identified. Authorities say the identification process is slow and painstaking because of the extreme nature of the injuries caused to some of those caught in collapsing buildings.
Prime Minister John Key visited Christchurch suburbs damaged in the quake, and was confronted by some residents who wanted services to be restored faster.
"You can see the enormity of the task in front of the services here," Key told reporters after flying over the city in a helicopter Friday. "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."
Energy supplier Orion New Zealand Ltd. said it had power restored power to 95 percent of Christchurch, leaving about 14,000 customers without electricity.
Repairing damaged sewage and water pipes was taking longer, and Civil Defense Ministry chief John Hamilton said the number of portable toilets distributed throughout the city would be doubled to about 2,000.
Written and photos by Associated Press
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