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Rescue Efforts End in New Zealand; Memorial Service Planned for Quake Victims

Photo Courtesy - Martin Hunter/Getty Images(CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand) -- Search and rescue teams looking for possible survivors of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that rocked Christchurch, New Zealand last week will now shift their focus to recovery as the chances of finding someone alive have diminished, officials announced Thursday.

"We now face the reality that there is no chance that anyone could have survived this long, and efforts have to shift to the recovery of loved ones and their return to their families," Civil Defence Emergency Management National Controller John Hamilton said.  "As time has gone on, the chance of finding someone alive has diminished and, sadly, there becomes a point where the response effort shifts in focus from rescue to body recovery.  We have now reached that point."

Since the Feb. 22 earthquake, 60 people have been rescued from the wreckage, Hamilton said, but several dozen still remain missing.  The official death toll has now climbed to 161, but officials believe that number can go as high as 240 as more bodies are recovered from the rubble.

Following the announcement that rescue efforts will be converted to a recovery operation, Prime Minister John Key also said Thursday that a national memorial service will be held for victims of the quake in the upcoming weeks.

"At an appropriate time in the coming weeks we will hold a national memorial service in Christchurch to honour those who have died... but today is a day when we as a nation, along with our many friends around the world, mark with a heavy heart and great sadness this moment of unbearable loss for the many families involved," Key said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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