New Zealand Ends Rescue Search To Focus On Recovery

March 3, 2011

Bill Chappell

Phil Walter
Volunteers prepare relief supplies for survivors and people displaced by the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, nine days ago. The search for new survivors has been ended.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, officials have ended the search for survivors of the powerful earthquake that struck nine days ago.

"Sadly, there becomes a point where the response effort shifts in focus from rescue to body recovery," said the country's Civil Defense Emergency Management chief, John Hamilton. "We have now reached that point."

Search and rescue teams have been working nonstop since the 6.3-magnitude quake struck. In the first 24 hours, they located and saved 70 people.

But no survivors have been found in more than a week, and there's virtually no chance anyone could still be alive under the rubble, officials say.

Search crews have recovered 161 bodies, but about 200 other people are still missing. The public reaction among families and loved ones to the decision to call off the search reportedly ranges from resignation to desperation.

Thursday, a crew plans to enter the collapsed spire of Christchurch Cathedral, according to The New Zealand Herald.

When the quake struck after mid-day, a tour group was in the spire of the famous cathedral. Officials say the searchers may find as many as 22 people when they enter the structure.

Teams are now focusing on removing debris, and pulling apart the tangled remains of destroyed buildings in the downtown area. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.