Christchurch death toll stands at 160

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The death toll from the Feb. 22 devastating 6.3 Christchurch earthquake has risen to 160, New Zealand police said on Wednesday.

The final death toll are expected to reach 240.

Polcie have also warned that the bodies of some victims may never be recovered because they were pulverized by the buildings that collapsed around them.

Strong wind, dust temporally hampers rescue efforts

Wednesday's rescue efforts have been hampered by strong gusts whipping up much of the dust that has settled around the city, although the winds have dropped off Wednesday evening. The winds, gusting to 90 km an hour, have stirred up dust and in some parts of the city, and it is common to see people wearing face masks.

The winds are understood to have disrupted search and rescue teams at several central city sites. They are forecast to ease overnight, but in the meantime dust is billowing over parts of the city.

Civil Defence is to distribute face masks to the people of Christchurch.

Last week's earthquake brought an estimated 200,000 tons of silt to the surface, more than half of which has been cleared away.

However, the strengthening north-westerly winds have been drying the silt and kicking up clouds of dust.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker is urging residents to wear face masks, which he says the Student Volunteer Army will help distribute.

On Wednesday afternoon, the families of those still missing in the devastated CBD had the opportunity to visit sites where people are believed to be trapped.

Police said 250 foreign nationals and 150 New Zealanders went on a "very emotional" bus tour to see first-hand the devastation.

Red Cross announces grants

The Red Cross announced the establishment of two grants - an emergency and hardship grant and a bereavement grant - for people affected by last week's devastating Christchurch earthquake.

The emergency and hardship grant is 1,000 NZ dollars (750 U.S. dollars) per couple or family, and 500 NZ dollars for single people, living in their homes without power or water or sewerage or people forced to leave there homes.

There is also a 10,000 NZ dollars bereavement grant for the next of kin of victims.

People from overseas affected by the earthquake are eligible to apply for these grants.

The Red Cross has so far raised more than 11.6 million NZ dollars with more to come.

Entrance into cordon may soon be granted for some

Civil Defence controller Steve Brazier said on Wednesday that plans were progressing to begin allowing people inside the central city cordon, particularly to retrieve their vehicles.

"There are a lot of cars in the streets and in parking buildings," he said, adding "we'll either allow access in to receive them or take them out and leave them somewhere to be picked up."

This would be done in stages and start in the least affected areas.

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