Elements in the Foreign Ministry said Ofer Mizrahi, a 23-year-old from Kibbutz Magal who was in Christchurch, New Zealand when the massive earthquake hit the city, is feared dead. A Chabad representative told Ynet that the Chabad Center in Christchurch had collapsed. Three people emerged unharmed.
Mizrahi's friends phoned his family and informed them he had died. This has not been officially confirmed. Two other Israeli travelers were lightly hurt in the disaster.
Initial unconfirmed information suggests Mizrahi was touring New Zealand with three friends. The four were apparently inside a vehicle when the earthquake hit Christchurch.
Michal, one of Ofer's friends who was with him at the time told her family a concrete block hit their car. "Luckily, the back door was open and the girls immediately went through it. Guy managed to break the window shield and escape while Ofer was trapped," Michal's father Yossi said. He noted they were unaware of Ofer's condition.
"They were very fortunate to make it out of the car alive," he added. The four Israeli travelers are classmates who embarked on a trip to Australia and New Zealand together.
"This is strictly preliminary information," a Kibbutz Magal resident told Ynet. "We have no real idea when happened there, only rumors." They noted that the victim's family has been informed.
Ofer Mizrahi, Michal Friedman and Guy Yorden (Reproduction photo: Ido Erez)
The Foreign Ministry estimates that 120-150 Israeli travelers are currently in Christchurch and is working to contact them. Israel's consul in New Zealand is making his way to the disaster area.
Israel's Ambassador to New Zealand Shemi Tzur told Ynet that all Israelis have been asked to leave the Christchurch immediately. "We asked the Israelis in Christchurch to leave the city. Just take a car and get as far away as possible. We are in contact with the others and I hope the consul will arrive in the area within the next couple of hours and try to get to any Israeli staying there because we do fear there are casualties," he said.
"As we knew Christchurch was a favor among Israeli travelers and in light of the dire situation there I sent out our consul. Seeing as the airport has been closed, he is making his way to the nearest town, three-four hours away, where he will take a car to the city and try to help Israelis. The consul will also visit hospitals and local authorities to locate Israeli victims," Tzur said.
The ambassador detailed efforts to locate Israelis caught in the disaster area. "We have contacted them through the local Chabad rabbi, contact people at the Municipality and friends of Israel from various organizations. We have asked to provide them with information and aid. Anyone who arrived at the meeting point gave his full details and those names were forwarded to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. All Israelis here have been asked to contact their families."
Israeli travelers' car after earthquake (Reproduction photo: Ido Erez)
Israel offers aid
The Foreign Ministry has offered New Zealand to support its rescue efforts, drug and food supply as well as provide means to handle natural disasters. New Zealand's government thanked Israel and said it will consider the offer. Meanwhile Prime Minister Benjamin has ordered the relevant parties to see how they can help local authorities in rescue missions and help Israelis.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman phoned his counterpart in New Zealand Murray McCully and offered his condolences. He offered Israeli aid and thanked Murray for the local authorities help in locating Israelis in the area. McCully thanked Lieberman but said they have yet to reach a final estimate on the number of casualties.
Christchurch's Chabad Center collapsed as a result of the powerful earthquake. "This is a very serious earthquake, the city is virtually completely in ruins, there is hardly one building left standing in the city center," Chabad representative Shmulik Friedman told Ynet.
Friedman and two others managed to emerge unharmed. "We were rescued somehow and managed to get out, " he said. "The building just completely collapsed, there is a lot of damage, many injured in the city."
The Chabad Center was relatively empty Tuesday despite usually being packed with people. "We had over a 100 people Friday night," Friedman said. "It’s a miracle it was almost entirely empty when it happened."
Christchurch is considered a popular destination among travelers partly because the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in the area. Many arrived in the area following a large-scale festival being held there. Many Israelis were evacuated to nearby parks after the quake.
"It's high season there now and the place attracts many tourists," a Foreign Ministry element said. "We know a Don McLean concert was held there last night and was attended by many Israelis."
At least 65 killed
A powerful earthquake collapsed buildings at the height of a busy workday in New Zealand's city of Christchurch, killing at least 65 people and trapping dozens Tuesday in one of the country's worst natural disasters.
"It is a just a scene of utter devastation," Prime Minister John Key said after rushing to the city within hours of the quake. He said the death toll was 65, and may rise. "This may be New Zealand's darkest day," he told TV One News.
Victims evacuated from houses (Photo: AP)
It was the second time a major quake hit the city of 350,000 in five months. Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude temblor struck closer to downtown than a quake that heavily damaged Christchurch last September but caused no deaths when it struck before dawn on a weekend.
Video footage Tuesday showed some multistory buildings collapsed in on themselves, and others with walls that had collapsed into the streets, strewn with bricks and shattered concrete. Sidewalks and roads were cracked and split, and thousands of dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered through the streets as sirens blared. Groups of people helped victims clutching bleedings wounds, and others were carried to private vehicles in makeshift stretchers fashioned from rugs or bits of debris.
Hundreds still trapped (Photo: Reurters)
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city center. Troops were deployed to help people get out and to throw up a security cordon around the stricken area, said Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.
The airport was closed, and Christchurch Hospital was briefly evacuated before it was deemed safe and patients were returned. Power and telephone lines were knocked out, and pipes burst, flooding the streets with water. Some cars parked on the street were buried under rubble.
AP, Raanan Ben-Zur and Aviel Magnezi contributed to this report
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