msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/23/2011 7:34:47 PM ET 2011-02-24T00:34:47

The sister and brother sat huddled Wednesday on sodden grass, staring at the smoldering remains of an office tower that collapsed with their mother inside.

They hadn't heard from their mother since a powerful earthquake tore through one of New Zealand's largest cities a day earlier, killing at least 75 people and leaving some 300 missing in the rubble. Still, there was hope.

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"My mum is superwoman, she'd do anything," Manning's 18-year-old daughter Lizzy said, tears streaming down her face.

Just then, a police officer approached and knelt before Lizzy and her 15-year-old brother Kent in the rain. "I have some horrible news..." the officer began.

The teens' faces crumpled, and their father wrapped them in an embrace as he gently broke the news that their mother, Donna Manning, was presumed dead along with everyone else trapped inside the building.

It was a dark moment that was repeated many times over Wednesday as rescuers searched for any signs of life in the twisted rubble of Christchurch, as Prime Minister John Key declared the quake a national disaster and analysts estimated its cost at up to $12 billion.

Hundreds of troops, police and emergency workers raced against time and aftershocks that threatened to collapse more buildings. They picked gingerly through the ruins, poking heat-seeking cameras into gaps between tumbles of bricks and sending sniffer dogs over concrete slabs.

Image: A rescue worker uses a thermal imaging camera to search for signs of life in the PGG building in central Christchurch
Simon Baker  /  Reuters
A rescue worker uses a thermal imaging camera to search for signs of life in the PGG building in central Christchurch on Wednesday.

Teams rushed in from Australia, the United States, Britain, Japan and elsewhere in Asia, along with a military field hospital and workers to help repair power, water and phone lines that were damaged in all corners of the city of some 350,000 people.

Rescuers were moving out into Christchurch's suburbs, the New Zealand Herald reported Thursday.

The news was grim at the Canterbury Television building, a seven-story concrete-and-glass structure that housed the regional TV network where Manning had worked as a morning anchorwoman. An English language school used by young visitors from Japan and South Korea was also located there.

The heavy concrete floors lay piled atop one another Wednesday, its central stairwell tower still standing, but leaning precariously.

"We don't believe this site is now survivable," police operations commander Inspector Dave Lawry told reporters. He said rescuers were shifting to sites that were less dangerous and where there was more hope for survivors.

Canterbury TV chairman Nick Smith said 15 of his employees were still missing inside the collapsed building. Also among the missing were 10 Japanese language students from a group of at least 23 students and teachers who were believed in the building, said Teppei Asano, a Japanese official monitoring the situation.

Video: Quake survivor recalls falling bricks, cracking roads

Not far away, cheers erupted Wednesday as rescuers pulled a woman from another crumpled office tower. Ann Bodkin was reunited with her husband after a painstaking rescue from the twisted metal and concrete remains of the Pyne Gould Guinness building. Giant sunbeams burst through the city's gray, drizzly weather as she emerged.

"They got Ann out of the building, and God turned on the lights," Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said.

Police superintendent Russell Gibson said early Thursday that the last survivor rescued had been pulled out at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and no trapped quake survivors had been found since.

Gibson said the operation had become one of body recovery, but he rejected suggestions that rescuers were abandoning hope of finding more survivors.

Slideshow: 6.3 quake rocks New Zealand (on this page)

"Yes, we are still looking for survivors," he said on National Radio. "There are pockets within a number of these buildings and, provided people haven't been crushed, there is no reason to suggest we will not continue to get survivors out of there."

He said the search continued in the Canterbury Television building, but "the signs don't look good. There has been a fire in there ... We will continue to pull that building apart, piece by piece, until we are satisfied" there are no more survivors.

Several workers for the U.S. Antarctic Program, a collection of scientists, research and support staff who use Christchurch as a base and transfer point, remained unaccounted for, Val Carroll, communication manager told msnbc.com on Wednesday.

Most of those had stopped in Christchurch after the summer research season in Antarctica and were on vacation, she said. Thus, many may be out of the area and yet to contact the program. Some 90 percent of the 600 workers with the program have been found, she said.

Many sections of the city lay in ruins, and police announced a nighttime curfew in a cordoned-off area of downtown to keep people away from dangerous buildings and to prevent crime.

Six people had been arrested since the quake for burglary and theft, said police Superintendent Dave Cliff, announcing that anyone on the streets after 6:30 p.m. without a valid reason could be arrested.

One of the city's tallest buildings, the 27-floor Hotel Grand Chancellor, was showing signs of buckling and was in imminent danger of collapse, Fire Service commander Mike Hall said. Authorities emptied the building and evacuated a two-block radius.

Video: Hundreds of people missing in quake aftermath (on this page)

Parker said 120 people were rescued overnight Tuesday, while more bodies were also recovered. About 300 people were still unaccounted for, but this did not mean they were all still trapped, he said.

Key, the prime minister, said early Wednesday that the death toll stood at 75 and was expected to rise. The figure had not been updated by nightfall.

The true toll in life and treasure was still unknown, but the earthquake already was shaping as one of the country's worst disasters.

JP Morgan analyst Michael Huttner conservatively estimated the insurance losses at $12 billion. That would be the most from a natural disaster since Hurricane Ike hit Texas and Louisiana in 2008, costing insurers $19 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Rescuers who rushed into buildings immediately after the quake found horrific scenes.

A construction manager described using sledgehammers and chain saws to cut into the Pyne Gould Guinness building from the roof, hacking downward through layers of sandwiched offices and finding bodies crushed and pulverized under concrete slabs.

One trapped man passed away after talking awhile with rescuers, Fred Haering said.

Another had a leg pinned under concrete, and a doctor administered medicine to deaden the pain. A firefighter asked Haering for a hacksaw. Haering handed it over and averted his eyes as the man's leg was sawed off, saving him from certain death.

"It's a necessity," Haering said Wednesday. "How are you gonna get out?"

The quake struck just before 1 p.m. local time on Tuesday, when the city was bustling with commerce and tourism. It was less powerful than a 7.1 temblor that struck before dawn on Sept. 4 that damaged buildings but killed no one. Experts said Tuesday's quake was deadlier because it was closer to the city and because more people were about.

Christchurch's airport reopened Wednesday, and military planes were brought in to fly tourists to other cities.

Officials told people to avoid showering or even flushing toilets, saying the damaged sewer system was at risk of failing. School classes in the city were suspended, and residents advised to stay home.

Interactive: New Zealand quake (on this page)

Christchurch's main hospital was inundated with people suffering head and chest injuries, said spokeswoman Amy Milne. But officials said the health system was coping, with some patients moved to other cities.

Tanker trucks were stationed at 14 spots throughout the city where residents could come to fill buckets and bottles, civil defense officials said, and people asked to catch and save rainwater.

Anger, grief
There was anger that the authorities had not done more after the earthquake five months ago, which caused considerable damage but no deaths.

After watching rescuers abandon the search of his school, a six-story building where dozens of Asian students had come to learn English, Indian student Jeewan was still raw with emotion.

"How was this allowed to happen?" he said. "When they inspected the building after the last earthquake, why didn't they realize?"

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"It shouldn't be this way," he added, shaking his head in grief and anger.

Asian students flock to New Zealand every year to learn English because it is safe, cheap and breathtakingly beautiful.

Kento Okuda, a 19-year-old Japanese student, was one of the language students who were rescued from under the wreckage.

"I was surrounded by darkness, unable to move with my right leg caught between something," he told Japan's Asahi newspaper.

"They had to amputate my leg to rescue me but it was something I had to accept. I want everyone else to be rescued as well," he said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.

Video: Desperate hours in quake's aftermath

  1. Closed captioning of: Desperate hours in quake's aftermath

    >>> now we switch to the disaster zone in new zealand where it's already thursday and chances of finding survivors in the rubble of that devastating earthquake are fading by the hour. the death toll is now more than 70. it will almost certainly climb, sadly, given the number of those believed to be trapped. our own george lewis is with us live from the city of christchurch tonight. george, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, it's a city of frayed nerves tonight. we've been feeling aftershocks all day long as the effort to rescue people trapped beneath the quake rubble continues around the clock. as they survey the damage, many people in christchurch compare their city to a war zone . search and rescue crews say they have cleared about 40% of the collapsed buildings here. they're still pulling people out of the rubble. rosalind chapman ducked under her desk when the quake hit. she was rescued 12 hours later. anne bodkin got out with barely a scratch after 25 hours, her rescuers braving aftershocks to save her.

    >> in the midst of what is by and large one of the bleakest days in the story of our city, the sun came out at the same moment as they removed ann from that building.

    >> reporter: in the television office building , authorities fear as many as 100 dead could be buried beneath the rubble. they have given up hope finding anyone else alive here.

    >> i don't believe it. why this building?

    >> reporter: 80% of christchurch is without water. people scrambling for emergency supplies. fema deputy director tim manning was in christchurch for a conference. a former firefighter, he joined in the rescue effort.

    >> eventually came back over here to a pancaked building where we worked in the rubble for a while trying to retrieve some people calling for help.

    >> reporter: this is the second big quake here within a five-month period. as was the case with new orleans after katrina, some are talking about leaving christchurch and not coming back. christchurch officials have two words for people who want to help out, send money. they have got plenty of blankets, plenty of clothing, what they need now is cold, hard cash. brian.

    >> george lewis with the unbelievable situation in new zealand tonight. george, thanks.

Photos: 6.3 quake rocks New Zealand city

loading photos...
  1. Grant Smith, second from left, is assisted as he walks behind the coffin of his 9-month-old son, Jayden Harris, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 2. Jayden was killed on Feb. 22 when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch. (Mark Mitchell / New Zealand Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. People battle high winds and dust in Christchurch on March 1, as the silt caused from soil liquefaction after the quake dried out. (Brett Phibbs / New Zealand Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Urban Search and Rescue workers from Japan, New Zealand, China and Australia at Cathedral Square observe two minutes of silence at 12.51pm local time to mark the time of last week's Christchurch earthquake, March 1. (Cameron Spencer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Students work in the suburb of Shirley to clear away silt caused as a result of liquefaction on March 1 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Phil Walter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Mourners at the funeral for Joe Pohio follow the casket to the Kaiti Atua Cemetery for a burial service on March 1 in Kaiapoi, New Zealand. Joe Pohio was killed from falling debris after coming to the aid of a woman in the Christchurch City Food Court after the earthquake struck. (Phil Walter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Cattle graze in a flooded field discoloured by mineral contamination on the outskirts of Christchurch on Feb. 27. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Liquefaction engulfs the tomb of Rhoda Toomer in the historic Barbadoes Street Cemetery, on Feb. 26 in Christchurch. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rev. Philip Robinson holds a service outside the St. Barnabas Church in Christchurch, New Zealand, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011. The church sustained minor damage after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the city Tuesday, Feb 22. (Rob Griffith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ray Shearman takes a break from cleaning the silt from his yard in the suburb of Bexley on Feb. 26, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Cameron Spencer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Brent Smith and his family watch as their earthquake-damaged house is demolished in Christchurch, Saturday, Feb. 26. Violent aftershocks from the Feb. 22 magnitude-6.3 quake hampered desperate efforts to find survivors. (Tim Wimborne / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Cars lie crushed under a fallen building in central Christchurch, Feb. 26. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Neighbors check on a damaged house on Cashel Street on Feb. 2, in Christchurch. (Hannah Johnston / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Newlyweds Emma Howard and Chris Greenslade cheer for a group photo after their wedding on Friday, just days after she was pulled from the rubble of the earthquake devastated Pyne Gould Corporation in Christchurch. (Mark Baker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A large crack runs down a road in Christchurch on Friday. (Marty Melville / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A car lies buried by rubble on Friday in the port town of Lyttelton, which was the epicenter of the 6.3 earthquake. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Debrah Moore and her children gather in front of their tent after their house was made unliveable by Tuesday's earthquake, in a beach-side suburb of Christchurch on Friday. (Tim Wimborne / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Tristan Webb stands in a large hole along River Road, Avonside in Christchurch. (Martin Hunter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Jacob Baymon gives free apples to a cyclist on Ferry Road on Feb. 24 in Christchurch. (Hannah Johnston / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Relatives of missing Japanese students walk to a bus after arriving at Christchurch airport on Feb. 25. Many Japanese students of an international English language school are still unaccounted for after the quake. (Mark Baker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Members of Canterbury University volunteer army clean up mud on Feb. 24 in Christchurch. The quake caused liquefaction of the ground. (Martin Hunter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A suburban street is covered with silt forced out of the ground by liquefaction. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Rescuers stand at the smoking ruins of the CTV building in Christchurch on Feb. 24; dozens of people are feared buried there. (Marty Melville / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Luxury homes stand on the edge of a landslide in Sumner, a suburb southeast of Christchurch on Feb. 24. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. The Grand Chancellor Hotel, which authorities expect to collapse, is seen in central Christchurch on Feb. 24. (Simon Baker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The QE2 Stadium's track and field are damaged with silt forced out of the ground by liquefaction. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Members of the Japan Disaster Relief Team line up as they board their flight to New Zealand at Narita international airport east of Tokyo on Feb. 23. (Toru Hanai / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rescue worker looks for signs of life in the rubble of the CTV building on Feb. 23. (Simon Baker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A woman is pulled from the rubble on Feb. 23. (Marlborough Express / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The four-story Pyne Gould Corporation building lies in ruin in central Christchurch, Feb. 23. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. A resident walks through the center of Lyttelton, near Christchurch on Feb. 24. (Mark Baker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A giant boulder sits below a house that it went through near Lyttleton on the outskirts of Christchurch on Feb. 24. (Mark Baker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Two men celebrate after being pulled out from a destroyed building in Christchurch on Feb. 23. (John Kirk-Anderson / Christchurch Press via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Murray and Kelly James look at their destroyed house in central Christchurch on Feb. 23. (Mark Baker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man is escorted by a rescue worker after being pulled from a destroyed building in Christchurch on Feb. 23. (John Kirk-Anderson / Christchurch Press via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Rescue workers surround the Canterbury TV building in Christchurch on Feb. 23. (Hannah Johnston / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A rail line buckled by the shifting earth is pictured in Christchurch on Feb. 23. (Marty Melville / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Tourists shelter at the Salvation Army centre at Cowles Stadium in Christchurch on Wednesday. (Tracey Nearmy / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A rescue worker uses a thermal imaging camera to search for signs of life in the Pyne Gould Guinness building in central Christchurch on Wednesday. (Simon Baker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A rescue worker guides survivor Ann Bodkin out of the destroyed Pyne Gould Guinness building in Christchurch on Wednesday. (Rob Griffith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. An aerial view of emergency services people working at the ruined CTV building in central Christchurch Wednesday. Search teams used their bare hands, dogs, heavy cranes and earth movers to pull survivors from the rubble of Tuesday's powerful earthquake. (Sarah Ivey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Fifteen-year-old Kent Manning, left, and his sister Libby, 18, pictured with their father, who asked not to identified, after they were told by police on Wednesday that there was no hope of finding Kent and Libby's mother alive in the collapsed CTV building. (Rob Griffith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. A fuel tanker sits abandoned and blocked by fallen rubble on a main road between Lyttelton Township and Christchurch on Wednesday. (Sarah Ivey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. The Timeball Station is seen to be badly damaged, a day after the 6.3-magnitude earthquake in the township of Lyttelton near Christchurch on Wednesday. (Sarah Ivey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A vehicle is stuck in liquification in a street after a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch on Wednesday. (Dianne Manson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Icebergs caved into Tasman Lake as a result of the 6.3 earthquake on Tuesday. The New Zealand Herald newspaper reported that 30 million tons of ice broke free from the Tasman Glacier in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. The Christchurch Catholic Cathedral was extensively damaged by the earthquake on Tuesday. (David Wethey / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Rescue workers search for earthquake survivors at the collapsed CTV building in Christchurch on Tuesday. (Carys Monteath / Christchurch Press via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Survivors wait in Latimer Square in Christchurch's central business district, hoping recuers will locate friends and family buried beneath the rubble on Tuesday. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck 12 miles southeast of Christchurch at around 1 p.m. local time. (Lisa Wiltse / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. A schoolgirl cries in central Christchurch on Tuesday. (A.j. Sisco / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. A man holds a child in his arms after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch on Tuesday. (Iain McGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. A man is seen after being pulled from the rubble. (Iain McGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Rescue workers and a helicopter work to extinguish a fire at a collapsed building in the city center. (Mark Mitchell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Trapped people broke windows in preparation of their rescue from a high-rise building in central Christchurch. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. A woman is pulled from the rubble. (Iain McGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Two women hug each other in front of a collapsed building in central Christchurch. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. A police officer talks to a woman trapped in the city's damaged cathedral after the earthquake. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. People are evacuated from a health clinic in Christchurch. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. A collapsed building covers parked cars in the aftermath of the earthquake. (Logan McMillan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. The suburb of Bexley is flooded following the earthquake. (Mark Mitchell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Debris from collapsed buildings crushed cars and littered the streets after the earthquake. (Martin Hunter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. Rescuers search for survivors in a collapsed building. (Martin Hunter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. A woman is rescued from inside a building after Tuesday's earthquake. (Richard Cosgrove / Christchurch Press via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Debris from the collapsed tower of Christchurch cathedral is seen after the earthquake Tuesday. (Don Scott / Christchurch Press via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Rescue workers carry the body of a woman who died in the Christchuch earthquake. (Martin Hunter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. People receive treatment as rescuers search for victims trapped inside a commercial building after the Christchurch earthquake. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. A bus lies semi-crushed and covered with debris after the quake. (Martin Hunter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Interactive: New Zealand quake

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