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'Mommy, I got buried': Texts sent from NZ rubble

The first text message said: "Mommy, I got buried." About 40 minutes later: "Mommy, I can't move my right hand." Then, a brief call from New Zealand's earthquake rubble to parents in pleading to send help.
Image: An aerial view shows rescuers working at the ruined CTV building  in Christchurch
Rescuers work at the ruined CTV building in Christchurch, New Zealand. SARAH IVEY / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: news services

The first text message said: "Mommy, I got buried." About 40 minutes later: "Mommy, I can't move my right hand." Then, a brief call from New Zealand's earthquake rubble to parents in the Philippines pleading to send help.

After another harrowing hour in a crumpled building, when she sent a half-dozen more texts about increasing pain, continued shaking and overwhelming smoke, came the final one: "Please make it quick."

That was the last the Amantillo family heard from 23-year-old student Louise Amantillo, who is among dozens of foreigners missing after their language school disintegrated in Tuesday's collapse of the prominent CTV building in Christchurch.

"Her voice was shaking, like she was really scared. I know she was in pain," her mother, Linda Amantillo, told The Associated Press from her hometown in the central Philippines. Three days after receiving the last text, she was desperately hoping that her daughter was still alive.

Officials have said they are virtually certain no one is surviving in the ruins of the CTV building, and that up to 120 bodies are entombed there.

A woman plucked from a building that collapsed in this week's earthquake went ahead with her planned wedding Friday — a bright spot in Christchurch as the death toll rose to 113.

Emma Howard told local media she was determined not to let Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake derail her plans for the wedding, even after she spent more than five hours trapped in a tiny cavity between the collapsed floors of a destroyed office building.

She managed to text fiance Chris Greenslade, who was outside his office across town when the disaster struck. He raced to find her and dug through the debris of her building, pulling others free as he tried to reach Howard. Greenslade then helped direct the rescue crews that eventually found her, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The couple were all smiles as they exited the Christ of the King Church on Friday — she in a white strapless dress with a large bow at the back, he in a dark suit and maroon tie — posing briefly for photographs before jumping in a car.

Meanwhile, the scene at another church — the landmark Christchurch Cathedral — was decidedly less joyous.

Rescuers pulled aside massive stone blocks and 13 massive church bells from the toppled spire of the place of worship, where as many as 22 bodies could now be trapped in a square popular with tourists.

"We're having to move extremely slowly, we're working brick by brick. There are a lot of loved ones in here that we want to get out," rescue worker Steve Culhane told Reuters.

Police said 228 people were listed as missing. The list could include many people whose bodies have been found but yet to be identified. More than 2,500 were injured in the quake, and more than 160 of them seriously.

Fears that a teetering 26-story hotel might be toppled by aftershocks eased after engineers found the building had stabilized over the past day, allowing an exclusion zone around it to be narrowed and for rescuers to enter nearby buildings.

A 6.3-magnitude earthquake rocked the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch on Tuesday, collapsing buildings, cracking streets and causing multiple fatalities and serious injuries.

'Tragedy that will touch many'
The collapse of the King's Education language school has pulled an international group of anguished relatives into an agonizing vigil awaiting conclusive word on the victims. The facility catered to students from Japan, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and Korea.

Many of the relatives arrived Friday at the Christchurch airport, including about 20 from Japan who were whisked onto a bus by embassy officials. Police later held a meeting with school officials and parents at a community center for a briefing on rescue and recovery efforts.

"There will be families receiving the worst kind of news in the next few days," Foreign Minister Murray McCully said Friday. "This is not just New Zealand's tragedy, it's a tragedy that will touch many families around the world."

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker sought to reassure foreign relatives that everything possible was being done.

"We think that your children are our children — there is no difference," he said. "We are taking full responsibility to do everything we can to assist those families ... and in the rescue operation."

The Amantillos are a medical family, from Iloilo province in the central Philippines where they speak the Ilonggo dialect.

Linda Amantillo is a nurse and her husband, Alexander, is a doctor. Their daughter followed suit and studied to become a nurse. She set her sights on working abroad and went to New Zealand to immerse herself in English.

"The nurses here don't have jobs, and she wanted to strive," Alexander Amantillo said.

The family has a sister-in-law who works in New Zealand, and she has gone around to check hospitals in Christchurch, but there has been no sign of Louise, he said Friday. The family also plans to send a son and niece to Christchurch to monitor the search.

It has been a painful three days for the Amantillos since that first text came across in the Ilonggo dialect: "Ma, naambakan ako," or "Mommy, I got buried," as dictated by Linda Amantillo in telephone interviews on Thursday.

"We told her, 'You can make it, you can make it. Be strong and pray,' " Alexander Amantillo said.

But Louise's texts, sent every five to seven minutes, were getting increasingly desperate. "I have not yet been rescued. It's painful already," she wrote at 2.45 p.m. Then, "There is no rescue in my area." Two minutes later: "The smoke is overwhelming."

At 3.32 p.m. the family received Louise's last message, giving her location — corner of Madras Street and Chassel Street — and ending it with the final plea, "Please make it quick."

Overwhelmed by worry, Linda Amantillo tried to call her daughter. But all she heard was a recorded response asking the caller to leave a message.