Dublin: Irish Nationals Among Dead In NZ Earthquake: UPDATED

23 Feb

One Irish citizen is confirmed to have died in the New Zealand earthquake, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has said.

Irish citizen among NZ quake dead Enlarge photo

Eoin McKenna, from Co Monaghan, had been living in Christchurch, the city badly hit by the 6.3-magnitude tremor.

The British husband of an Irishwoman was also among the dead, the department added.

Rodney Walshe, Ireland’s honorary counsel in New Zealand, said both families have been informed.

“Families know, I have spoken with both families. They’re all aware of the situation,” he said.

DFA said it has general concerns about eight other Irish people as they have not been able to make contact with them.

But Mr Walshe told RTE he believed they would be accounted for.

While an estimated 1,000 Irish citizens are living in the region, as well as a large community of second and third-generation Irish, queries to the department’s crisis helpline and registration show some 200 are in the city area.

Officials in New Zealand have warned it could be some time before full details of the casualties, including nationalities, will be known due to the extent of the damage in the city.

NEWS UPDATE:

Two Irish men are among the 75 people confirmed dead following yesterday’s earthquake in New Zealand.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed the deaths this morning and said there are “strong concerns” for the safety of two other Irish people currently missing in the country’s second-largest city, Christchurch. The DFA also said it has not been able to account for another seven Irish people.

One of the men has been named as Eoin McKenna from Co Monaghan who was married to a New Zealand woman.

The other man is understood to be married to an Irish woman and is originally from Northern Ireland.

Both men had been living in the country for several years.

Ireland’s honorary counsel in New Zealand Rodney Walshe said the families have been informed.

“Families know, I have spoken with both families. They’re all aware of the situation,” he said.

Meanwhile rescue services continued to pull survivors out of the rubble 24 hours after the devastating earthquake as the overall death toll climbed to 75, with many dozens still trapped inside collapsed buildings.

Rescue teams had to perform amputations to free some of the 120 survivors so far pulled from the wreckage of yesterday’s strong tremor, which had hit the country’s second-biggest city at lunchtime. The death toll is expected to rise further.

“We are getting texts (sms messages) and tapping sounds from the living and that’s our focus at the moment,” police shift commander Russell Gibson said on Radio New Zealand.

Early in the afternoon a woman was rescued from a finance company’s destroyed four-storey building, having spent a day trapped under a desk. Amid cheers and applause from rescuers the woman, wrapped in blankets, was put into an ambulance.

Rescuers focused their greatest efforts on that building and were searching five others, but hopes faded of finding survivors in another collapsed building, home to a broadcaster and an English language school.

An early report that a group of 15 people had been found there was denied, and among those still unaccounted for at the smouldering ruin site were 10 Japanese students at the school.

“They’ve told us there’s no hope,” a distraught woman said as the specialists left the scene where her brother-in-law was caught under the rubble. Around her, tearful relatives of other victims were in shock as they digested the news.

As many as 300 people are still missing a day after the quake, mayor Bob Parker said, but it was unclear how many of these could be explained by communication breakdowns between families, friends and authorities. Previously, Parker said up to around 100 people could be trapped.

Authorities have identified 55 dead bodies and there are another 20 still to be identified. The toll seems certain to rise further as the frantic search effort focuses on survivors ahead of retrieving and identifying corpses.

“There are bodies littering the streets. They’re trapped in cars, crushed under rubble, and where they are clearly deceased our focus unfortunately at this time has turned to the living,” police commander Mr Gibson said.

Yesterday’s 6.3 magnitude quake – the second to hit the historic tourist city in five months – struck when streets and shops were thronged with people, and offices were busy. It was New Zealand’s most deadly natural disaster for 80 years.

In central Christchurch, roads were buckled, buildings toppled and large pools of water had welled up from broken water pipes and sewers.

There were fears that one of the city’s tallest buildings, the 26-storey Hotel Grand Chancellor, which has sagged in one corner, could collapse and bring down adjoining structures.

The building has been evacuated but rescue teams have been forced to pull back, disrupting nearby searches.

In places, roads had collapsed into a milky, sand-coloured lake beneath the surface, the result of Christchurch’s sandy foundations mixing with subterranean water under the force of the quake. Officials call it “liquefaction” of the ground.

A national state of emergency has been declared allowing for the control and coordination of rescue resources. Christchurch cit was being patrolled by soldiers with armoured personnel carriers.

It is the country’s worst natural disaster since a 1931 quake in the North Island city of Napier which killed 256.

Christchurch Hospital received an influx of injured residents, with broken limbs, crush injuries and lacerations.

“Some had to have their limbs amputated to get them out, and others have had amputation from the injury itself,” said Mike Ardagh, head of Christchurch hospital’s emergency department.

“Some have sadly died … of those who had a chance, some haven’t been able to make it.”

Thousands of people were facing a second night in emergency shelters in local schools, community halls and at a racecourse.

Fresh water supplies were railed into the city and were being distributed from schools and portable toilets set up around the city as services were disrupted.

Rescue specialists from the United States, Britain, Taiwan and Japan were en route to New Zealand, while the first of 148 search and rescue specialists from neighbouring Australia, aided by sniffer dogs, were already on the streets.

New Zealand sits between the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates and records on average more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which about 20 would normally top magnitude 5.0.

Additional reporting Reuters

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