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NZ earthquake toll at 75 dead, 300 missing

Feb 23, 2011 6:13:00 AM - thestate.com
The siblings sat huddled together Wednesday on sodden grass, staring at smoldering remains of the office tower that collapsed with their mother inside when a powerful earthquake tore apart one of New Zealand's largest cities.

There had been no word from Donna Manning since her workplace came crumbling down Tuesday during a magnitude-6.3 quake that has killed at least 75 people and left some 300 missing. But she was tough, her 18-year-old daughter Lizzy insisted through tears, a "Superwoman" who would do anything to survive.

Then a police officer approached. She knelt before Lizzy and her 15-year-old brother Kent in the rain. And she began to speak: "I have some horrible news ..."

The teens' faces crumpled, and their father wrapped them in an embrace. There was no hope left for anyone trapped inside the building, the officer said gently. Donna, a television presenter - their Superwoman - was gone.

It was one of the darkest moments of Wednesday's desperate hunt for any signs of life in the twisted rubble in the city of Christchurch, as Prime Minister John Key declared the quake a national disaster and analysts estimated its cost at up to $12 billion.