Death toll may climb to 240

7:33 am on 2 March 2011

Police say the earthquake death toll could climb from its present 155 to as high as 240.

Early on Tuesday morning, police updated their number to say that, with the recovery of three bodies overnight, the toll was 154 confirmed dead, with another 50 still missing.

But Superintendent Dave Cliff said later that the number of missing was fluctuating and it was possible 240 people might have died.

Only eight victims have been formally identified so far. Police expect to identify three more people on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Superintendent Russell Gibson says there should now be a steady release of bodies to families, because the process of identifying victims has improved and more people have been drawn in to help with the job.

A four-member team has arrived from Queensland, bringing to 170 the number of people working on confirming and naming victims.

New Zealand's worst earthquake death toll was 256 in Napier on 3 February 1931.