Image: Crane removes  wall of Christchurch Cathedral.
Sarah Ivey  /  AP
A crane removes one side of the wall of the Christchurch Cathedral on Friday.
By
updated 3/4/2011 7:47:08 PM ET 2011-03-05T00:47:08

Searchers declared on Saturday that no one had died in the rubble of Christchurch's iconic cathedral. It was a rare piece of good news in the final days of a grim recovery operation following last week's earthquake that devastated New Zealand's second-largest city and killed at least 165.

Authorities had feared as many as 22 people had been inside the Christchurch Cathedral's stone bell tower when it was toppled by a magnitude 6.3 quake on Feb. 22.

Police Supt. Sandra Manderson said urban search and rescue teams had completed their excavation of the area and had confirmed that no one had been trapped inside what had been a popular tourist attraction.

"Urban search and rescue (teams) have cleared the whole area ... and they've found no bodies," she told National Radio.

The Dean of Christchurch Rev. Peter Beck has been advised and was "absolutely elated," she said.

    1. Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again

      The father of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he was told his long-lost son vanished on a fishing trip but he didn’t have the heart to break the news to his ailing wife.

    2. Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage
    3. Weapons deal strengthened Assad: US intel chief
    4. Outcry over the fate of Sochi's stray dogs
    5. Olympic construction leaves Sochi residents in the cold

Manderson said she hoped that the surprise good news would bring down the estimated death toll of the disaster from as high as 240 to around 220. She said she was investigating what the estimate of 22 people in the tower had been based on.

She also announced that the confirmed death toll had risen to 165 after two bodies were recovered Friday from one of the worst-hit structures, the Canterbury Television building.

Beck said that from the time that the earthquake devastated Christchurch's city center at lunch time on a busy week day, he suspected that there would be multiple casualties under the ruins of the 130-year-old Anglican tower.

"Straight after the quake, a young woman was in tears and I gave her a big hug. She was telling me that she had just rushed out of the tower just before the quake and there were people behind her," Beck said Saturday.

"Then you get other anecdotal stories from people saying they saw people in the viewing platform (of the tower), so that is the kind of stuff that was going around," he said.

"This is good news in a sense that there are no bodies there, but at the same time we are very, very conscious of those who are mourning their loved ones and our hearts and prayers are with them," he added.

Authorities officially ended the search and rescue phase of the recovery operation in Christchurch on Thursday, saying there was no chance that anyone else would be pulled alive from the debris of the quake that demolished or irreparably damaged one third of the buildings in the city center. Police say that the search for bodies will not continue much longer, with some victims expected to be pulverized beyond recovery.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said Friday an estimated 70,000 Christchurch residents — one-fifth of the 350,000 population — had left the city since the quake, which cut power, water and sewage systems for large parts of the city. Most were expected to return as the city recovers.

Just 20 of the 165 bodies have been publicly identified. Authorities say the identification process is slow and painstaking because of the extreme nature of the injuries caused to some of those caught in collapsing buildings.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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
  64. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    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
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Interactive: New Zealand quake

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments