Christchurch updated

March 4, 2011 Agencies
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Shemi Tzur, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, has ended another horror week dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake which has claimed the lives, so far, of  around 240…including three young Israelis. He reports on the current status…


I am writing to bring you up to date since I last wrote to you about our activity in the wake of last week’s 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Christchurch.No words come close to conveying the terrible impact of February 22, 2011. Along with our Consul, Teddy Poplinger, and Einat Weiss from our Embassy in Canberra, I have spent much of the past week in Christchurch—and I, too, struggle to adequately describe the horrendous trail of destruction left, in particular, at the city’s downtown and eastern suburbs.

The powerful quake is believed to have claimed around 240 lives, injuring hundreds of others and leaving unknown thousands with damaged homes. What has happened is of course first and foremost a disaster for New Zealand. Sadly there have been a number of dimensions to the event that were all-too-relevant to our Embassy.Three young Israelis are now known to have perished in the tragedy: Ofer Levy and Gabi Ingel, from Rehovot, and Ofer Mizrahi, from Kibbutz Magal. All of the dead were aged 23.Over the past week, the Embassy has worked as best it can for all those affected, supporting the families of the deceased, attending daily official briefings involving the city’s leaders, police chiefs, rescuers and medical personnel as well as making arrangements to send the bodies of the victims to Israel before Shabbat. On Monday and Tuesday this week, I have attended deeply moving, respectful ceremonies at Burnham Military Camp, overseen by Chabad Rabbi Shmulik Friedman, prior to the deceased’s repatriation to Israel.
A seven-person Israeli Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team from the Israeli Police force arrived on Monday at Burnham. The Israeli team worked alongside local and international teams in very sensitive and difficult fields of body identification.Yesterday, Israeli Minister of Home Front Defence, Matan Vilnai, who oversees much of the country’s preparedness for natural disaster, stopped his official visit to Australia and arrived in Christchurch. During his  10 hours in the city we had  meetings with Mayor Bob Parker and later on with the Minister of Civil Defence, Mr John Carter.  We were taken to the cordoned off area where the destruction is immense. We spoke with people on the ground and to member of the Search and Rescue teams.  We then made a stop near the Cathedral where we were informed the bodies of Gabi Ingel and Ofer Levy were found.Later that day, we visited the Burnham Military Camp, where local authorities have set up and prepared the facilities for the DVI teams.  We met the Israeli team which has been working there since Monday. Finally we met with Mr Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs.In all meeting we, on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the people of Israel, expressed our deepest sympathies, condolences and solidarity with the people of Christchurch and New Zealand. They in return also expressed their condolences for the loss of three young Israeli lives.Mr Matan Vilnai expressed his appreciation for the professional conduct in which the New Zealanders have handled this severe crisis.Our hosts appreciated the fact that our Minister immediately ceased his visit in order to come to New Zealand at this difficult time.At the Embassy, all our staff, assisted and supported by others from Canberra, have helped eliminate names from what was initially a substantial list of unaccounted-for Israelis, along with fielding numerous earthquake-related queries from New Zealand, Israel and elsewhere. Shabbat Shalom and Besorot Tovot.
Shemi TzurAmbassador of Israel




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