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NZ toll reaches 145, identifying bodies becomes a concern

Melbourne: Rescuers in New Zealand`s quake-devastated Christchurch city recovered more bodies from the debris of flattened buildings on Saturday, taking the toll to 145 which includes victims of 20 nationalities.

There have been no live rescues since Wednesday and given that the number of missing is above 200, the number of dead is certain to rise.

The 6.8 magnitude quake that hit Christchurch on Tuesday devastated the city and brought down several buildings, trapping scores of people under the rubble.

The official toll has risen to 145 this evening, the New Zealand Herald reported.

"We expect that number to rise," Superintendent David Cliff was quoted as saying.

He added that the number of missing people for whom there are grave concerns remains at more than 200. Among the dead are people of 20 different nationalities.

Identification of bodies is emerging as another major problem for the rescuers, with the authorities relying mostly on fingerprints or DNA.

"The biggest concern we have to returning the wrong loved one to the wrong family," Cliff said.

He said the frustration of the families, who had lost their loved ones, was understandable but added that visual identification of the bodies was not easy.

He also said that there remains a risk of masonry coming off buildings and windows being smashed due to aftershocks.

Fire Service spokesman Paul Baxter said though fresh bodies had been recovered, no new names have been listed.

"Where we have specific information around the identity of a loved one, we will be doing everything humanly possible to get that person to their loved ones as soon as we can," he said.

The ongoing aftershocks were making rescue effort a difficult task, officials said.

They said that power has been restored to 82 per cent of the city.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key has called for the observing of a two-minute silence on March 1 "as a sign of unity for the people of Christchurch and out of respect for those that lost their lives".

Key today met with the families of those who are still missing.

"They fear the worst but there is still a glimmer of hope… The urban search and rescue crew made it clear that this was still very much a rescue effort, not a recovery," he said.

The government will announce an economic package on Monday.

"We are dealing with some very difficult circumstances here," he said.

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