Earthquake-hit Christchurch is bracing for the possibility of strong winds, adding to the treacherous conditions for rescuers scouring the rubble.

The death toll from last Tuesday’s earthquake stands at 148, but police say it’s likely to exceed 200.

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Officials say the winds are likely to force rescuers, looking for survivors, to retreat form the ruins.

Many building in Christchurch, New Zealand’s second biggest city are already on the brink of collapse.

In this nervous city, the search for survivors continues but hopes are fading as each hour passes.

Only a handful of the dead have been formally identified and the British High Commissioner to New Zealand, Vicki Treadell, says UK specialists will soon arrive to help.

“We have seen in earlier disasters where identification has not been done properly, that the wrong bodies go to the wrong families, and that exacerbates grief and is deeply traumatic in itself,” she said.

Christchurch mayor, Bob Parker, says he’s concerned the strong winds could cause breathing problems for residents:

“That’s of great concern to us because there is a lot of dust in the city, a lot of silt,” he said.

“The estimate for that is about 180,000 tonnes. We have a target of getting it cleared by the end of the week, but this weather will tend to spread it around the city.”

As aftershocks continue to shake the city, authorities fear that a large number of homes, and boulders the size of cars, could tumble onto houses below.

A British rescue team has been tunnelling into a collapsed office block in very dangerous conditions.

Team leader Peter Crook says the hopes of finding survivors is diminishing.

“We go in a bit later with the small hope that someone in the furthest reaches in a very small cavity, uninjured could survive. It can feasibly happen,” he said.

“But they’re very difficult areas to get to. And at the same time we’re going through, we’re obviously coming across bodies as well unfortunately.

“It’s been difficult so far but it’s going to get harder and harder.”

Extraordinary stories of heroism and survival are still emerging as the rescue effort continues.

At the main hospital, 73-year-old Peter Symms, a retired lecturer from the Scottish borders south of Edinburgh, bears the bloodied scars of a terrifying ordeal.

On a rainy lunchtime last Tuesday, Peter and his wife were in the cinema, when the magnitude 6.3 quake tore through Christchurch.

“We got to about three quarters of the way through the film, and then there was this bloody great explosion and the whole building started shaking,” he told the BBC from his hospital bed.

“The lights went out. My wife and I grabbed each other, and I think I must have passed out, and when I came to I could see the sky above.

“There was a concrete beam which came down, which is probably what did the damage. The seats had collapsed and my leg was wedged underneath a row of seats and some timber.

“And two men came in, and eventually a third man who was the duty manager for the cinema and they managed to get me out, and that was incredibly brave because there were aftershocks going all the time.”

Symms suffered a fractured skull in the earthquake, while parts of the left side of his body, including ribs and an arm, were crushed.

He was moved to tears as he recounted parts of his astonishing experience.

“One of the people that lifted me out was, I think, from Seattle. And he was a lightly built man, about 60,” he said.

“Quite incredible, he got completely covered in my blood. And then other people, when we got outside, which took about 15 minutes, they came up and they put their clothes over me and over my wife. So it was really quite amazing.”

While some have narrowly escaped death, many others here have lost their homes and face the awful prospect of more earthquakes if they are to stay.

Siobhan Grimshaw, an occupational therapist from Newcastle in County Down, who migrated to New Zealand seven years ago, is not sure if her family will rebuild their shattered home that was a couple of kilometres from the quake’s epicentre.

“Initially all I could think of was that we had to get out of Christchurch. I thought we could go and live in Australia, but I thought no, floods [there],” she said.

“Nowhere is safe. I was telling my husband we have to get out of Christchurch and we can’t ever live here again. And he was saying ‘Yes we can, it’ll be alright, we can rebuild’.

“I’ve settled down and I can see that, yes, we can rebuild, maybe,” Grimshaw said with some hesitation moments after another aftershock had caused the ground to shake.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key has announced a $120 million package to help earthquake victims over the next six weeks.

Officials estimate 42,000 people are unable to go back to work because of the disaster, which has destroyed 750 buildings in the centre of the city.

Key says he wants to put money immediately into people’s pockets.

“The Earthquake Support Subsidy will provide employers with a contribution to help them keep paying wages,” he said.

“People eligible will receive a payment of $500 per week per full time employees. The second part of the package is the earthquake job loss cover to provide support whose employer believes their business is no longer viable.”

The prime minister says he also plans to ask influential celebrities like talk show hosts Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman to promote a charity drive for victims and rebuilding efforts in Christchurch.