Post-mortems on Christchurch quake victims near completion

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Post-mortems on victims of the Christchurch earthquake are likely to be completed in the next few days, police said on Monday.

The official death toll remained at 166 on Monday. Police said identification of all the victims could take some time.

Victims identification takes time

Superintendent Sam Hoyle told a news conference on Monday that the number on the missing persons list is reducing as more of the dead are officially identified.

However, he says the list is a "moveable feast" because names are being removed as identifications progress and, even at this stage, one or two names are being added, particularly of tourists or backpackers.

Search and rescue teams cleared 300 buildings in central Christchurch on Sunday. Teams continue to try to clear the stairwell at the Forsyth Barr building where they are making slow progress.

The Fire Service said the Hotel Grand Chancellor has been cleared and the operation there is over.

The 26-storey building has been on a lean since the day after the earthquake, but no decision has been made as to whether to demolish or salvage.

The national controller for Civil Defence said buildings that pose a safety risk for search and rescue crews working through them will be completely or partially demolished. He says every endeavor is made to contact the owner should a demolition be necessary, but if a building needs to be pulled down quickly for safety reasons, he is responsible for approving the demolition.

Minister urges realism over demolitions

New Zealand Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said on Monday he has no desire to bulldoze Christchurch but people must be realistic about the demolition of heritage buildings.

Brownlee had earlier signaled that all but a few of the city's heritage buildings would have to go. The opposition then accused him of overstating the case and the city's mayor, Bob Parker, said the tension between retaining the city's old buildings and making progress needed to be carefully weighed.

Brownlee said on Monday that many of the 1600 heritage buildings in the city have been severely damaged and are unlikely to be rebuilt.

Buildings damaged in the Sept. 4 earthquake were still in a bad state of repair and some are becoming hazards, he said.

Christchurch schools beginning to reopen

Five schools in Christchurch reopened on Monday and the Ministry of Education expects a further 25 to reopen this week.

All schools were shut in the days following the 6.3-magnitude quake that damaged buildings, roads and cut water and power.

Those that opened on Monday were all primary schools.

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