New Zealand's earthquake-shattered city of Christchurch prepared to bury the first victim on Monday of last week's devastating tremor that
killed at least 148 people as aftershocks forced the evacuation of scores of people in hillside suburbs.

A burial service for the first victim, a five-month-old infant boy, was due later on Monday. Only eight bodies, all local residents, have been released to families so far.

Rescue teams from New Zealand and seven nations, including the United States, China, Japan, and Australia, are still holding onto faint hopes of finding someone alive in one of the ruined buildings in the central part of the city levelled in last Tuesday's 6.3 magnitude tremor.

The focus and energy of the teams on the ground is very much on rescue and looking at areas where there may be live victims, fire rescue head Jim Stuart Black told Reuters.

Police have said the death toll may rise to more than 200, with around 50 people still unaccounted for.

The dead and missing include people from 20 nations, including dozens of students from Japan, China and Taiwan who were in Christchurch, one of New Zealand's most attractive cities, to learn English in view of the country's dramatic southern Alps.

Authorities warned that they expected strong winds later on Monday, which could whip up storms of contaminated dust, and
topple already loose masonry.

That is of grave concern to us...it is not immediate health risk, but itself it is an irritant, local mayor Bob Parker told reporters.

 Aftershocks of up to magnitude 4.3 were still rattling the area and forced more people from their homes in hillside and seaside suburbs as fears grew that a large number houses and car sized boulders will tumble onto more houses below.

No survivors have been rescued since mid-afternoon on Wednesday, as the painstaking search concentrated on a finance company office block, the city's landmark cathedral and a local television building, which housed an English language school.

Efforts were being made to prop up the teetering 26-storeyHotel Grand Chancellor, which had hampered search operations because of fears it would collapse and bring down adjoining buildings, and steel bracing was being readied to support a dangerously unstable wall at the cathedral.

Govt package

Prime Minister John Key is expected to unveil emergency assistance later on Monday which will support businesses and workers unable to operate because of the quake, similar to measures taken after the September quake.

The sort of package we are announcing today and other packages they will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars over time, Key told TVNZ.

He said the cost of the quake might be around NZ$13 billion ($9.8 billion), which would require the New Zealand Earthquake Commission's disaster fund to be replenished by a significant rise in its levies.

Households currently contribute to the fund through local property taxes and insurance premiums.