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Funeral for earthquake victim baby

A five-month-old boy has been laid to rest after the first funeral for victims of New Zealand's devastating earthquake, as the death toll rose to 148 and the government said the economic cost could be 20 billion dollars (£9.3 billion).

Dozens of family and friends gathered at a small chapel in the stricken city of Christchurch for Baxtor Gowland, who was sleeping at home when he was struck by masonry shaken loose by the magnitude 6.3 quake last Tuesday.

"We have all been thankful of the support and good wishes expressed from New Zealand and around the world," the child's great-uncle, Peter Croft said, his voice shaking with emotion as he read the statement.

Officials have named just eight victims of last week's disaster - Baxtor and another infant among them. Superintendent David Cliff said that the death toll had reached 148, based on the number of bodies recovered from the rubble.

Officials say the task of identifying the dead is slow and difficult, and that unidentified bodies are included on a list of people considered missing, which currently numbers around 200. Mr Cliff said there are "grave fears" for about 50 of those counted as missing, indicating that the final death toll could be around 200.

Prime Minister John Key announced the first package of financial measures aimed to help the stricken city get back on its feet - subsidies for employers worth 120 million New Zealand dollars (£56 million) to help pay salaries for some 50,000 people unable to go to work because of damage from the quake.

"It is designed to immediately put money into people's pockets and give them some confidence," he said at a news conference, adding that further measures still to come were likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. He did not elaborate.

Outlining the measures after a Cabinet meeting in the capital, Wellington, the capital, Mr Key also said the expected economic cost of the earthquake saying "is in the order" of 20 billion (£9.3 billion). Analysts had earlier put the cost at up to 12 billion (£5.6 billion)

The multinational team of more than 600 rescuers scrabbling through wrecked buildings in the decimated central area of the city last pulled a survivor from the ruins on Wednesday afternoon, making it six days without finding anyone alive.

Engineers and planners say the city's decimated central area may be completely unusable for months to come and that at least a third of the buildings must be razed and rebuilt. The government has said that virtually all services carried out in the city centre area will have to operate from elsewhere during the rebuilding period.


From Belfast Telegraph