The grim search for survivors in Christchurch continued to yield only bodies Saturday, as engineers said a third of the earthquake-stricken city centre faced demolition.
Police said the toll from Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake had reached 123 and warned the figure would rise, with more than 200 people still missing, many feared trapped in the ruins of New Zealand's second largest city.
Hundreds of search and rescue specialists from around the globe continued to meticulously pick through the debris aware that the last survivor was pulled out of the rubble on Wednesday afternoon.
"We haven't had some of the good news stories were hoping for," Christchurch mayor Bob Parker told reporters.
Office blocks folded like packs of cards, entire streets lost their shop frontages and the historic cathedral lost its spire, in the tremor, which followed another destructive quake last September.
Auckland University structural engineer Jason Ingham revealed the scale of the rebuilding task facing Christchurch's battered residents, saying an official survey indicated a third of downtown buildings would be condemned.
"We've collected some data over the past couple of days and it's looking like about one-third of the buildings," he told TVNZ.
Police said hopes of a miracle soared early Saturday when a paramedic reported hearing voices in the rubble, only to be dashed when the noise turned out to be rescuers.
Rescuers have ruled out finding survivors at Christchurch's landmark cathedral, where up to 22 people could be buried.
They also do not believe anyone remains alive under the collapsed CTV building, which housed a TV station and a busy language school for foreign students, and where as many as 120 people may have perished.
At least 26 Japanese nationals are feared dead in the building, which burst into flames after the quake, and a Japanese rescue team is frantically working on the site.
Despite the devastation, Japan's parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Hisashi Tokunaga, who is in Christchurch overseeing the country's contribution to the rescue effort, said his team remained optimistic.
"We still have strong hope that we are going to have Japanese people rescued," he told TVNZ via an interpreter.
The disaster prompted a mass exodus of terrified residents and left a damage bill estimated at NZ$10 billion ($7.5 billion).
The city's transport and water supply systems remain crippled. Electricity has been restored to most areas but fire authorities said turning on the power had ignited blazes in four damaged houses.
Police have expressed disgust at an outbreak of looting and scams, with some people posing as officials to gain access to homes. In one case, burglars struck at the home of a woman missing in the quake.
District commander Dave Cliff said drunken disorder was also on the rise in the city, where stressed residents have endured the two major earthquakes along with thousands of aftershocks.
Christchurch's Rugby World Cup stadium has been closed until March 15 to allow an assessment of damage and determine if it can still host games during this year's tournament, its operator Vbase said.
"We've got minor repairable structural damage, substantial damage to the surrounding streets and likely to services infrastructure," Vbase chief executive Bryan Pearson told AFP.
Meanwhile in London Prince William, his fiancee Kate Middleton and Prince Harry on Friday signed a condolence book for the victims of the earthquake as messages of support for Christchurch continued to pour in from around the world.
Source: AFP Global Edition