World launches efforts for New Zealand earthquake victims

The United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and even Google have launched efforts to aid victims of Tuesday's New Zealand earthquake, which killed at least 65 people.

Pam Johnson/NZPA/AP
A building in Christchurch, New Zealand, is destroyed after an earthquake struck Tuesday, Feb. 22. The 6.3-magnitude quake collapsed buildings and is sending rescuers scrambling to help trapped people amid reports of multiple deaths.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

The morning after a 6.3-magnitude New Zealand earthquake devastated the nation's second-largest city, killing at least 65 people, worldwide efforts are being launched to help in the rescue.

The United Kingdom sent a 53-member search-and-rescue team to Christchurch; Australia deployed sniffer dogs and victim-recovery teams; the United States dispatched a team to help; and even the Internet search giant Google launched a person-finder application on its website.

With 11 Japanese students still unaccounted for and possibly buried in the rubble, Japan News reports that Tokyo is also sending a disaster relief team to the South Island.

"There are various organizations and countries across the world that will provide international search and rescue teams to help following earthquakes and other natural disasters," Andrew Thomas from the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service told the BBC.

The initial earthquake hit Tuesday at 1 p.m. local time, toppling the 130-year-old Christchurch Cathedral's spire, trapping people in collapsed buildings, knocking out power and telephone lines, bursting pipes, and flooding streets with water. Residents were told to avoid unnecessary use of the public water supply – such as by not showering or even flushing toilets – in an effort to save all potable water for drinking during what the prime minister said "may well be New Zealand's darkest day."

"We got the call around midday that our firefighters were needed to join the UK team flying out," Mr. Thomas said. "Currently, we're expecting them to fly out around midnight tonight from one of the London airports."

The UK team is expected to arrive late Wednesday, and the US has also dispatched a team to help, reported the Associated Press. Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland said that 148 Urban Search and Rescue specialists are being sent to Christchurch, according to the Herald Sun.

"These rescue teams are experts at recovering people who are trapped or affected by structural collapse and consist of highly trained emergency services workers, doctors, engineers, and search dogs," Mr. McClelland said.

Christchurch felt a number of aftershocks today, sending rocks falling and likely further compromising public structures. New Zealand's Ministry of Tourism redirected inquiries to the Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management, which was posting regular updates to its website. "Expect aftershocks," it advised. "Each time one is felt, drop, cover, and hold on."

The state of Canterbury's Environment Ministry had also created the website with regular updates.

In signs of progress, the main Christchurch Hospital had reopened by late afternoon today, and the city had also reopened its airport to emergency flights.

The temblor struck while a US delegation of 43 government, business, and community leaders was in Christchurch, but the US Embassy of New Zealand said in a statement that all were safe.

“The thoughts and prayers of our delegation, and the American people we represent, are with the people of Christchurch, the Canterbury region and all of New Zealand on the occasion of this devastating tragedy," said Rep. Donald Manzullo (R) of Illinois, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, who was a member of the mission.

The embassy said anyone seeking or providing information about the welfare of Americans in Christchurch could email:

Google was quick to launch a new Person Finder application on its website to aid those looking for missing people or with any information about missing people. The California-based search giant has also set up a Crisis Response page that lists emergency phone numbers, maps, and other resources. Google launched similar efforts following the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

According to the US Geological Survey, the temblor was an aftershock from a 7.1-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 4, 2010, in Darfield, New Zealand. It caused an estimated $3 billion in damages, but no deaths.

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