Christchurch: Two buildings where scores of people were killed in last week`s earthquake in the New Zealand city of Christchurch had been cleared as safe after a quake last year, an official said on Monday, as funerals began for the victims.
Separately, Prime Minister John Key said the overall cost of the February 22 and the September 04 quakes combined would be about NZD 20 billion (USD 15 billion), with the second, more destructive, earthquake costing about three-quarters of the total.
Concern had been raised about the condition of the 25-year-old Canterbury Television Building, which housed a language school and was where nearly half the confirmed dead were killed. The death toll from last Tuesday`s 6.3 magnitude quake is 148, but authorities expect it to rise to near 200.
A 7.1 quake rocked Christchurch on September 04, and questions had been raised about whether buildings such as the CTV and Pyne Gould building had been destabilised, but an official said on Monday both had been inspected and cleared as safe.
"What mother nature did to us last Tuesday was to deliver an earthquake that exceeded design standards. And it exceeded them by 50 percent," Christchurch City Council Building Manager Steve McCarthy told a media briefing.
"The unique thing about this earthquake is that it lifted the ground and the buildings and then dumped it at two times the force of gravity," McCarthy said.
The bodies of dozens of students from Japan, China, the Philippines and Taiwan are still in the ruins of the six-storey CTV building, whose floors pancaked on top of each other.
The first funeral of a victim, a five month old infant boy, took place on Monday. Only eight bodies have been released because of the need to accurately identify the dead.
Police and rescue officials were in tears at the funeral of Baxtor Gowland in Christchurch, as the boy`s family thanked the community for rallying around in support.
"We have come with very heavy hearts today to remember with love and say goodbye to baby Baxtor ... a treasured baby son," the boy`s great-aunt said, the New Zealand Herald reported.
The condition of the CTV building had been raised the day after the quake by a student from India.
"How was this allowed to happen? When they inspected the building after the last earthquake, why didn`t they realise?" asked the student named Jeewan.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the unique nature of the earthquake and the force it exerted was something authorities across the world would need to look at.
"This is an international issue and the learning that will come out of this will potentially change earthquake (building) codes internationally," Parker said.
Forecasts of gale force winds for Christchurch on Tuesday were downgraded, although the wind could still whip up storms of contaminated dust, and topple loose masonry.
Rescuers said hope of finding survivors was running out.
Aftershocks of up to magnitude 4.3 were rattling the area and forced more people from their homes in hillside and seaside suburbs as fears grew that a large number of houses and car-sized boulders would tumble onto houses below.
No survivors have been found since mid-afternoon on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Key unveiled a temporary assistance package for employers and employees, which he estimated would apply to about 42,000 people and cost up to NZD 120 million.
Life was slowly returning to normal in some parts of the city, with buses back on the streets and some coffee shops, corner stores, offices and restaurants reopening.