The bodies of some victims of New Zealand’s devastating earthquake may never be recovered because they were pulverised by the buildings that collapsed around them, police said.
Police Superintendent Dave Cliff said four more bodies had been pulled from the rubble by recovery teams in the shattered city of Christchurch overnight, taking the total death toll to 159.
Many more people remain missing, and Cliff has said the final tally is likely to be around 240.
Police also released the names of three more victims, eight days after the deadly 6.3-magnitude quake struck the city and wreaked widespread damage through the CBD and eastern suburbs.
Those named on Wednesday were Jayden Andrews-Howland, 15, from Aranui, Paul Clarence Dunlop, 67, from Rolleston, and Andrew Stephen Cochrane, 43, of Bromley.
Eleven people have now been officially named.
More than 900 urban disaster specialists are working at sites across the southern city, picking through the remains of wrecked buildings and clearing away debris, as the massive operation moved into its second week.
No one has been pulled alive from the rubble since 26 hours after the February 22 quake, and officials are pessimistic about finding any other survivors.
The operation to recover bodies has been slowed by near constant aftershocks that have rumbled through the city, threatening to bring further debris raining down from damaged buildings.
Authorities have appealed for patience from families waiting for news of missing relatives, saying that the remains of some people who were caught in falling buildings can be identified only through DNA testing or dental records.
“There may be some cases where, because of the enormous forces involved in this, that it may not be possible to retrieve bodies in all cases,” Cliff told reporters.
“We need to alert people to that possibility.”
Among those listed as missing are an unknown number of students and staff from Japan, China and other countries who were at an English language school that was housed in one of two office buildings that completely collapsed in the quake.
Police said up to 120 bodies were inside the Canterbury Television, or CTV, building, where the language school was located.
Strong winds were hampering rescue and recovery operations, threatening to bring down bricks and masonry from already damaged buildings and spreading clouds of dust across the city.
Some of the city’s 350,000 residents donned face masks when they went outside to protect themselves from the dust.