The New Zealand earthquake has prompted an inquiry and possibly a criminal investigation over the quality of the construction of buildings that were reduced to rubble.

As Christchurch’s final death toll from the February 22 earthquake creeps up, and is estimated to reach around 240, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced that he would bring people to justice if they were implicated in the investigation.

The vast majority of those who died were inside two multi-storey office blocks, the Canterbury TV and Pyne Gould Guinness buildings.

But there are still many damaged structures that need to be made safe before rescue workers can go into them to recover bodies from the rubble.

Questions have been raised about how they became destroyed in the first place, given that they were relatively modern structures.

The Canterbury TV and Pyne Gould Guinness buildings were both checked for damage after an earthquake that hit Christchurch last September.

Key said: “We know that, in the case of those two buildings, they were checked after September 4, and so we’ll need to go back and make sure those checks were done properly.

“We don’t know what’s gone wrong with those buildings, and there are all sorts of theories, but until we do a proper inquiry we won’t be able to give those appropriate answers.”

As earthquake victims were honoured with two minutes’ silence yesterday, Key paid tribute to the help which has been received from Britain, and appealed for people to donate to the disaster relief fund.

He said: “The British have been absolutely amazing. (Prime Minister) David Cameron has been on the phone on numerous occasions.

“The British have sent out their urban search and rescue teams and are offering us support in terms of the DVI (disaster victim identification) process.

“And we know the people of Britain have a great affinity and a long shared history with New Zealand, so we’d ask them to donate if they can.”

After New Zealand paused, rescuers returned to their grim task of searching through tons of rubble.

But the streets of central Christchurch will remain eerily quiet for many weeks.

The central business district is still cordoned off, with the public banned until buildings can be made safe, or more likely, demolished.