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4 March 2011, 09:22
The nine Hampshire firefighters and six from West Sussex who are part of the UK search and rescue team helping victims of the New Zealand earthquake are expected to return home next week.
The New Zealand government confirmed earlier today “with considerable sorrow and frustration” that the mission for emergency teams responding to the earthquake has now switched from search and rescue, to one of body recovery.
More than 70 people were rescued from the rubble of collapsed buildings within 24hrs of the earthquake striking on 21st February, but no one has been found alive for more than one week
Despite the efforts of all the national and international rescue teams working in Christchurch, hopes of finding further casualties alive has now ended. The switch of emphasis was confirmed by the New Zealand Civil Defence Minister who said his country “now had to face the reality that there is no chance anyone could have survived for this long.”
There are 161 confirmed fatalities so far, although the final number is expected to reach at least 240. The UK search team that has been working on the Pyne Gould Guinness building have recovered 13 fatalities.
With the rescue phase now ended, arrangements are being made for all the international search teams to return home.