Rescue workers in New Zealand's earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch got a rare ray of hope Wednesday when they successfully pulled a woman from the rubble, more than 24 hours after a 6.3 magnitude tremor shook the city.
Ann Bodkin took cover under her desk when the earthquake struck, but became trapped inside the Pyne Gould Corp. building in the center of Christchurch. Rescue crews greeted her with applause, as they brought her down to safety – slightly sore, but in good spirits.
"In the midst of what is by and large one of the bleakest days in the story of our city, the sun came out at the same moment as they removed Ann from that building," Mayor Bob Parker said.
That welcome news came after a long, and heartbreaking day spent searching for survivors. The death toll officially stands at 75, but 300 people are still missing. A large part of the rescue efforts have centered around the Canterbury TV building where about 100 people are feared dead.
Crews called off rescue operations after saying they were "100 percent certain" there were no survivors trapped in the rubble.
"The sad fact is that we're removing resources from this site to other sites where there is a high chance of survivability," Police Operations Commander Inspector Dave Lawry said. "My heart goes out to those families…knowing that some of their children have probably been killed in this incident."
Among those feared dead, nearly two dozen Japanese teachers and students from a Japanese language school and a study tour agency. They were all enrolled at the King's Education College inside the CTV building. Japanese media reported that students were eating lunch in the cafeteria when the quake hit, and the floor collapsed.
"There was major shaking, and suddenly the floor fell," 19-year-old Kento Okuda, who survived the quake, told Japan's Asahi newspaper. "Everyone around me was saying things like 'it hurts' as they fell downward. And then I realized I was in total darkness with my right leg pinned by something so I couldn't move."
Rescuers had to amputate Okuda's leg to free him from the rubble. He was one of several students who used their mobile phones to contact family members. He said he called his brother and asked him to notify the Japanese embassy of his whereabouts.
Rescuers pulled 13 students were pulled out of the rubble, though it was unclear whether they were among the people who used their phones. Ten of the students missing are from the Toyama College of Foreign Languages in western Japan's Toyama City.
Some anxious family members kept vigil at the campus Wednesday, while they waited for word of their loved ones. Japan dispatched 70 search and rescue members, paramedics, and search dogs to the devastated region.
"I wish I could remove the rubble, even a piece or two," Shu Otsubo, the father of student Noriko Otsubo, told the Yomiuri newspaper. "She has such a strong spirit and works so hard for everything. I believe she will survive."