CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The sister and brother sat huddled Wednesday on sodden grass, staring at the smoldering remains of an office tower that collapsed with their mother inside.
They hadn't heard from Donna Manning since a powerful earthquake tore through one of New Zealand's largest cities a day earlier, killing at least 76 people and leaving 238 missing. Still, there was hope.
"My mum is superwoman, she'd do anything," Manning's 18-year-old daughter Lizzy said, tears streaming down her face.
Just then, a police officer approached and knelt before Lizzy and her 15-year-old brother Kent in the rain. "I have some horrible news..." the officer began.
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The teens' faces crumpled, and their father wrapped them in an embrace as the officer gently broke the news that their mother was presumed dead along with everyone else trapped inside the building.
It was a dark moment that was repeated many times over Wednesday as rescuers searched for any signs of life in the twisted rubble of Christchurch. Prime Minister John Key declared the quake a national disaster, and analysts estimated its cost at up to $12 billion.
Hundreds of troops, police and emergency workers raced against time and aftershocks that threatened to collapse more buildings. They picked gingerly through the ruins, poking heat-seeking cameras into gaps between tumbles of bricks and sending sniffer dogs over concrete slabs.
Teams rushed in from Australia, the United States, Britain, Japan and elsewhere in Asia, along with a military field hospital and workers to help repair power, water and phone lines that were damaged in all corners of the city of some 350,000 people.
The news was grim at the Canterbury Television building, a seven-story concrete-and-glass structure that housed the regional TV network where Manning had worked as a morning anchorwoman. An English language school used by young visitors from Japan and South Korea was also located there.
The heavy concrete floors lay piled atop one another Wednesday, its central stairwell tower still standing but leaning precariously.
"We don't believe this site is now survivable," police operations commander Inspector Dave Lawry told reporters. He said rescuers were shifting to sites that were less dangerous and where there was more hope for survivors.