- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — The siblings huddled Wednesday on sodden grass, staring at the smoldering remains of a building that collapsed with their mother inside.

They hadn’t heard from TV presenter Donna Manning since a powerful earthquake tore through one of New Zealand’s largest cities, killing at least 75 people and leaving some 300 missing in the rubble. Still, there was hope.

“My mum is superwoman, she’d do anything,” Mrs. 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. There was no hope left for anyone trapped inside the building, the officer said gently.

It was one of the darkest moments of a desperate hunt for any signs of life in the twisted rubble in the city 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.

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

The news was grim at the Canterbury Television building, a seven-story concrete-and-glass structure that housed the regional TV network where Mrs. Manning was a morning presenter and other businesses, including an English-language school used by young visitors from Japan and South Korea.

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, announcing that 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 and assumed inside the collapsed building. Ten Japanese language students were still missing from a group of at least 23 students and teachers who were believed in the building, said Teppei Asano, an Japanese official monitoring the situation.

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. Coincidentally, giant sunbeams burst through the city’s grey, drizzly weather as she emerged.

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

Many sections of the city of 350,000 people 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 opportunistic crime.

Story Continues →