At least four Britons are now understood to have been killed in last week’s devastating New Zealand earthquake, with Christchurch police warning they expect the final death toll to rise above 200.
A fifth Briton is still missing following the 6.3-magnitude quake which hit Christchurch on Tuesday, while two more were seriously injured and required hospital treatment.
Officials said yesterday the total number of confirmed dead was 147, while more than 50 people remained unaccounted for.
The hunt for survivors was continuing amongst the rubble of the city, but rescuers warned that with nearly a week having passed since the earthquake struck, they were “starting to move into the miracle stage of the operation.”
The severity of the injuries sustained by those caught up in the disaster in New Zealand’s second-largest city has slowed the grim process of identifying the dead, and only one of the British victims’ names has been confirmed.
Gregory Tobin, 25, a chef from Tadcaster in North Yorkshire, had been on a round-the-world trip and was believed to have been working temporarily at a garage in Christchurch when the devastation struck.
The British High Commission confirmed that two British nationals aged over 50, a male tourist and a woman who lives in Christchurch, had been taken to hospital with serious – but not life-threatening – injuries sustained in the tremor.
The man remains in hospital but the woman has since been discharged.
Another British woman was discharged from hospital after suffering a suspected heart attack during the quake.
A British taskforce of disaster victim identification (DVI) experts is due to arrive in the city today to help to identify victims. The eight-strong team, which includes a pathologist, odontologist and fingerprint expert, will assist experts from New Zealand and Australia.
The New Zealand Fire Service and Urban Search and Rescue said yesterday they were making good progress and still hoped to find survivors at the three main sites most devastated by Tuesday’s quake.
Rescue coordinator Jim Stuart-Black said his team were “still in active rescue mode” and continued “to look in every possible place for survivors”, but admitted that finding more survivors was increasingly unlikely.
“We are starting to move into the miracle stage of the operation,” he said.
They are being helped by a 61-strong British specialist rescue team who arrived in the city on Friday to help to search for survivors among the flattened buildings.
The British team has been working among the ruins of the Pyne Gould Corporation building in the centre of the city, using acoustic listening devices to pick up any sound of life.
So far they have recovered four bodies from the wreckage and yesterday were working on recovering a fifth, but they remained optimistic in the hunt for survivors.
A spokesman said the moderate climate gave cause for hope, as it meant there was more potential for people to survive among the debris.
“As long as they’ve got access to water they could survive for up to 10 days. It looks like carnage but it does look like there may be voids in there where people may be able to survive,” he said.
A multi-national team of more than 600 rescuers from New Zealand, the UK, the United States, China, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico and Australia continued to scour the city.
Prime minister John Key said the quake may be the country’s “single-most tragic” disaster.
Mr Key said the Government will announce an aid package today for an estimated 50,000 people who will be out of work for months due to the closure of the town centre. He also called for two minutes of silence on Tuesday.