POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 16, 2011
WELLINGTON, New Zealand >> Nine final victims of New Zealand’s devastating earthquake were declared dead Monday, ending an agonizing wait for families of people whose remains have not been found in the wreckage.
Even DNA testing proved unable to identify nine of the 181 victims killed in ruined parts of the city of Christchurch in the Feb. 22 quake, so 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 quake.
MacLean said their families deserved closure. The nine were six women and three men. Four were Chinese and one Filipino. Others were born in Peru and Russia.
Witnesses reported seeing all nine in the Canterbury Television Building before the earthquake, but no one had seen any of them since. A total of 115 lives were lost in the CTV building, which totally collapsed and burned.
The magnitude 6.3 earthquake is one of New Zealand’s worst disasters. Some 10,000 houses and nearly 1,000 downtown commercial buildings will have to be demolished and some parts of suburban Christchurch likely will have to be abandoned altogether.
The quake is New Zealand’s most expensive natural disaster, costing an estimated $15 billion.
Police earlier identified 172 victims and told the inquest they had names for another nine people but any remains of them recovered were too incomplete to be identified forensically.
Fingerprints, dental remains, pathological examinations and DNA analysis were among the methods unable to identify the nine, Detective Inspector Paul Kench said.
“To say that this is an extraordinary type of inquiry is an understatement,” MacLean told the hearing.
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.