New Zealand authorities announced Thursday they had officially ended the search for survivors from last week’s quake that struck Christchurch and will shift to recovering bodies from the rubble.
Three Japanese who survived the devastating temblor returned to Japan on Thursday with 65 members of the Tokyo-dispatched disaster relief team.
The families of some of the 28 missing Japanese were meanwhile slated to leave New Zealand later in the day.
Risa Kakizawa, 19, and two other students from Toyama College of Foreign Languages returned to Kansai airport in Osaka Prefecture.
The rescue team, which was unable to find any of the missing Japanese thought trapped in the collapsed Canterbury TV building, returned to Narita airport after being replaced by a 32-member second team.
Some of the 28 families of Japanese missing following the 6.3-magnitude Feb. 22 quake have decided to return home, as it will take time to confirm victims’ identities.
The returning kin, most of whom are related to the 12 missing students from Toyama College, offered flowers Thursday morning at a military base in a suburb of Christchurch where the bodies of unidentified victims were laid out and were expected to move on to the airport.
A total of 69 Japanese have gone to Christchurch in search of loved ones. On Wednesday they viewed the rubble of the CTV building from buses, along with kin from China, South Korea and other countries.
The relief team is composed of 66 members from fire departments and other public safety organs across Japan, the Tokyo police department, the Japan Coast Guard and a member of the Japan International Cooperation Agency who stayed behind to handle the transition to the second team.
Later in the day, Toyama doctors and nurses who joined the relief team said in the city that mental health care is necessary for the families of the missing as well as those who survived. Dr. Joji Hamada from Toyama University Hospital said many family members are in a state of psychological disarray and can’t sleep.