New Zealand earthquake death toll at 75 as search continues

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) - Rescuers used their bare hands, dogs, and heavy machines Wednesday in an urgent search for survivors still trapped in crumbled buildings more than 24 hours after an earthquake devastated one of New Zealand's largest cities.

The confirmed death toll from Tuesday's magnitude-6.3 quake rose to 75, and officials said it was almost sure to climb further. Some 300 people were listed as missing.

Cheers broke out when an emergency team pulled a woman from the twisted metal and shattered concrete of one of the worst-hit buildings in Christchurch, while police announced they had lost all hope of finding survivors in another major wreckage.

Parts of the city of 350,000 people lay in ruins, and all corners of it were suffering cuts to water supplies, power and phones. The city was virtually shut down Wednesday, with officials urging residents to stay inside their homes.

Prime Minister John Key declared a national state of emergency as hundreds of soldiers, police and other emergency workers - including specialist teams from the U.S. and other countries - rushed to Christchurch as aftershocks continued to strike the area.

One of the city's tallest buildings, the 27-floor Hotel Grand Chancellor, was in imminent danger of collapsing, with one corner having sunk lower in the ground and the facade showing major buckling, Fire Service commander Mike Hall said.

Authorities emptied the building and evacuated a two-block radius, holding back residents with a police rope. Real estate salesman David Rankin, 50, stood gazing at the hotel where he said he was supposed to be having a lunch meeting.

Rankin said he was amazed by the ubiquitous ruins and dust unleashed by the quake, "like a war zone, like a bomb had gone off."

The immediate focus was on about a dozen buildings downtown where finding survivors was still a possibility. In other places, rubble was being left untouched - even if bodies were thought buried there - until the urgency of the survivor search passes.

Rescuers pulled Ann Bodkin free from the debris of the Pyne Gould Guinness building, where she was quickly reunited with her husband who had anxiously watched the painstaking rescue.

Giant sunbeams burst through the grey, drizzly weather as she emerged from the wreckage, prompting one official to say, "They got Ann out of the building and God turned on the lights," Mayor Bob Parker recalled moments after Bodkin was whisked to safety.

In contrast, the mood was dismal near the smoldering remains of the Canterbury Television building, where brother and sister Kent and Lizzy Manning sat on a rain-sodden patch of grass Wednesday waiting for news of their mother, Donna, a television presenter who they hadn't heard from since the quake.

"My mum is superwoman, she'd do anything," said Lizzy Manning, 18, with tears running down her face.

At that moment, a police official knelt down beside the pair.

"I have some horrible news ...," the officer began, before telling the siblings that there was no hope for anyone left trapped inside the building.

The siblings bowed their heads and wept. Their father rushed over and enclosed them in an embrace.


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