Spirits lift as cathedral cleared of victims

Rubble from the Christchurch Cathedral, following the 6.3 magnitude earthquake.
Rubble from the Christchurch Cathedral, following the 6.3 magnitude earthquake.
Spirits in Christchurch lifted today with the news that 22 people feared crushed in the ChristChurch Cathedral was wrong.

Searchers described the moment as "surreal" when they realised there were no victims among the rubble of the cathedral at the heart of the city, despite witnesses reporting nearly two dozen were thought to be in the building when it collapsed.

The cathedral's Dean, Very Reverend Peter Beck, said he cried when he heard the news.

Fire Service spokesman Assistant National Commander Paul Baxter told a media briefing tonight the cathedral and its surrounding areas had been cleared.

Search and Rescue crews had completed the operation, he said.

As the official death toll from the 6.3 magnitude earthquake sits at 165, the announcement that no bodies had been found buoyed spirits.

Mr Baxter said it was an unusual situation for the search crews clearing the building because they had been told by witnesses a considerable number of people were believed buried in the remains of the spire.

The number of people on the missing list could fall because of the incorrect victim reports, police said.

However, they were reluctant to lower the number yet because it was not known where those 22 people were.

Police have so far named 26 of the 165 confirmed victims, including six released today.

Superintendent Sam Hoyle said a further 38 bodies had been identified and the victims' families told.

Mr Baxter said search and rescue crews continued to work at the Canterbury TV building and were expected to finish within 24 hours.

At the Forsyth Bar building, teams had made "significant progress" but were yet to find any victims.

Mr Baxter acknowledged the work by the emergency services, defence and local and international Urban Search and Rescue specialists.

"Work on these sites would not have been possible without the assistance of many supporting agencies, organisations and private contractors. This includes heavy machinery operators, suppliers of materials crucial to the rescue, catering people, security, electricity suppliers and telecommunications providers.

"I also want to thank the people of Christchurch and New Zealand who have helped and supported us in so many ways. To all of you, a very sincere thank you."

Meanwhile, six recovery assistance centres opened this morning in the hardest hit areas of the city, offering a range of services and information for people needing help.

The "one-stop shops" would provide face-to-face services and information from agencies like Work and Income, Housing New Zealand, Christchurch City Council, Red Cross and Salvation Army.

The cordon blocking off central Christchurch after last week's destructive earthquake will be shrink tomorrow.

Civil Defence head John Hamilton said four green zones had been established at the edge of the cordon area and two of those would be open to the public at 2pm tomorrow.

Residents and business owners would be able to access the cordons from 8am to secure their properties.

However, Mr Hoyle said "disaster tourists" would not be welcomed in the CBD tomorrow.

"People returning to those cordons, their homes, their businesses have enough on their plate to deal with without having to worry about what has been termed 'rubber-neckers'."

"Those disaster tourists who are coming through for a look will not be welcomed by either the police staff or by those residents or business owners in those first few hours."

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