Prime Minister John Key earlier Thursday put the death toll at 92 people, and said all indications are that the loss of life could be “much more substantial than any one of us had ever dreamed of.” The prime minister says there are grave fears for another 200 people missing and unaccounted for.
The missing include more than 100 people believed trapped in the ruins of a building that contained a television station and a foreign language school. The school had more than 80 students and staff, including several from Japan.
Despite the fading hopes, one local police official said search teams are still focused on finding survivors in the rubble.
Authorities say some of the missing people may be out of touch because of disrupted communication lines.
Teams from the United States, Australia, Japan and elsewhere have rushed in to join the search and rescue mission and help repair power, water and phone lines.
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with New Zealand’s prime minister Wednesday to express condolences over the devastating earthquake and to reaffirm the offer of American assistance. Prime Minister Key expressed appreciation for U.S. support and described the determination of his people in the face of the tragedy.
The prime minister declared a national state of emergency early Wednesday and said the world may have witnessed “New Zealand’s darkest day.”
Seismologists have counted more than 70 aftershocks since the quake struck Tuesday afternoon, and say the temblors are likely to continue for weeks.
Tuesday’s earthquake was the second to rock Christchurch in five months. Because of its shallow depth and proximity to the city it was far deadlier than the September 7.1-magnitude quake. It also caused extensive damage that has yet to be assessed.