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Christchurch death toll reaches 98

Hopes of finding more survivors in the collapsed towers of New Zealand’s quake-shattered Christchurch have faded, as officials said the death toll rose to 98 with grave fears for more than 200 missing.

Police said up to 120 bodies may still lie trapped in the tangled concrete and steel that was the Canterbury Television or CTV building, where dozens of students from Japan, Thailand, China and other Asian countries were believed buried when an English-language school collapsed along with other offices.

The official death toll from Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude quake stood at 98, police supt Dave Cliff said.

An additional 226 people were listed as missing, and prime minister John Key said there were “grave fears” that many of them did not survive.

“We are very fearful tonight that the death toll could be much greater than any of us have ever feared,” Key said, adding that there were dozens of “international people that are caught up in this tremendous tragedy”.

Rescue efforts so far had focused on the CTV building and a handful of other major office complexes that crumbled in the town centre, but work at those sites was shifting to the recovery of bodies while the remaining rescue efforts fanned out further from the centre of town.

Key has declared the quake a national disaster, and analysts estimate its cost at up to £7.5bn.

Christchurch police superintendent Russell Gibson said the operation had become one of body recovery, though he rejected suggestions that rescuers were abandoning hope of finding anyone alive after the quake, which occurred at lunchtime local time on Tuesday.

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