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Rescuers look for survivors as toll rises

Rescuers look for survivors as toll rises

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Rescuers in New Zealand's quake-devastated Christchurch Thursday focused on finding survivors despite dimming while the death toll mounted, officials said.

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake killed dozens, left hundreds missing, laid waste to much of the country's second-largest city on the South Island and dealt a severe blow to New Zealand's economic recovery. The tragic irony was that it hit as Christchurch was recovering from similar destruction last September delivered by a 7.1-magnitude quake, which at least spared lives.

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The death toll from Tuesday's catastrophe rose to 76 based on the number of bodies taken to a temporary morgue, the New Zealand Herald reported Thursday, quoting Canterbury district commander Dave Cliff. He did not rule out the toll rising further.

There had been different estimates in the earlier death toll, with some putting the number at 75 while others at 72.

Cliff said 238 were now listed as missing as rescuers concentrated on finding survivors in the rubble of collapses buildings and structures.

"This is very much an operation around rescue, it's looking for the living," Herald quoted Cliff as saying.

Among those listed as missing, he said it was possible some might have left the city.

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Concern grew about the fate of those trapped in the severely damaged Canterbury TV building and the Christchurch Cathedral.

The Herald quoted Cliff as saying estimates of those trapped in the CTV building have ranged from the high 60s to 120, and 16 to 22 in the cathedral.

Rescue efforts at the CTV building were earlier stopped for safety reasons as the building had been severely damaged by an overnight fire.

Police Minister Judith Collins Thursday termed the CTV building a scene of "utter devastation."

Rescue efforts also went on at the Pyne Gould office towers, another structure hit by the quake, but from where some survivors were rescued earlier.

At least 164 had been admitted to hospitals with serious injuries.

There was still no water or electricity in many parts of the city, officials.

Teams of 70 responders were concentrating on checking places where there could be dead or injured. Separately, experts used DNA, fingerprints and dental records to make identifications.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who declared a national sate of emergency Wednesday, received offers of help from U.S. President Barack Obama during a telephone call. Obama ordered a search and rescue team to New Zealand, while noting the "close and enduring friendship" between the two countries.

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The BBC reported about 120 people had so far been pulled out of collapsed buildings, although some had needed amputations.

Police were considering placing a curfew in some part of the city of 400,000 as there have been reports of some looting.

Damage estimates from the quake, the second-worst in New Zealand history, are running into the billions of dollars. Since Tuesday, the city has also been struck by numerous aftershocks.

The Sydney Morning Herald Thursday reported questions were arising as to whether the Tuesday disaster was an aftershock from September's quake. A resolution of that would determine whether the government or private insurers would be required to bear much of the damage cost, the report said.

Besides the United States, the BBC reported rescue teams had arrived from Australia, Asia, and Britain.

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