Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Last quake victims declared dead

The last nine victims of New Zealand's devastating earthquake have been declared dead

The last nine victims of New Zealand's devastating earthquake have been declared dead, ending a painful wait for the families of people whose remains have not been found.

Even DNA testing proved unable to identify nine of the 181 victims killed in ruined parts of the city of Christchurch in the February 22 earthquake and the government set up a special coroner's inquest to examine other evidence.

Chief coroner Neil MacLean made his official finding of death for nine people whose mobile phones, bank accounts and passports have not been used and whose remains could not be located. He concluded they died from traumatic injuries as a result of the earthquake.

Mr MacLean said the families of the six women and three men deserved closure. Four of the nine people involved were Chinese and one Filipino. Others were born in Peru and Russia.

Witnesses reported seeing all nine of them in the Canterbury Television (CTV) Building before the earthquake, but no-one had seen any of them since. A total of 115 people were killed in the CTV building, which collapsed and caught fire.

The magnitude 6.3 earthquake is one of New Zealand's worst disasters. Some 10,000 houses and nearly 1,000 commercial buildings will have to be demolished, while some parts of suburban Christchurch are likely to be abandoned altogether.

Police had earlier identified 172 victims of the earthquake and told the inquest they had names for another nine people but any remains recovered were too incomplete to be identified forensically.

Fingerprints, dental remains, pathological examinations and DNA analysis were among the methods which failed to identify the nine, Detective Inspector Paul Kench said.

The six women MacLean ruled dead were: Jinyan Leng, 30, Xiujuan Xu, 47, Didi Zhang, 23, and Xiaoli Zhou, 26, of China; Rhea Mae Sumalpong, 25, of the Philippines; and Elsa Torres De Frood, 53, a Peru-born New Zealand resident.

The men were: Matthew Lyle Beaumont, 31, and Shawn Lucas, 40, of Christchurch; and Valeri Volnov, 41, a Russian-born New Zealand resident.

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