Israelis offer helping hand in New Zealand
Tourists in Christchurch tell of horrors of earthquake, unfolding catastrophe as they join aid efforts: 'We reached center of town and found Israelis already helping and providing medical assistance. We just put on orange vests and pitched in,' says one tourist
Buildings collapsing, tent cities that were erected immediately and the trapped and dead earthquake victims. "The number of casualties will rise dramatically," estimated the Israelis who joined rescue efforts among the wreckage.
Ravit Avraham, and Israeli travel agent who has been living in Christchurch with her husband and children, told Ynet of a disaster the likes of which she had never witnessed.
"Imagine a terror attack in Israel and then imagine that it happened in every part of the city. That's what it's like here. Dozens are still trapped, their situation remains unknown and around us night has fallen, it's wet and cold. The city residents are in shock," she said.
When the earthquake hit she was on the outskirts of the city. "Suddenly, five minutes to one in the afternoon, the earth roared and just shook," Avraham describes the fearful moments. "At the time, all we could do was think of the children, one in kindergarten and one in school. It was a catastrophe so we rushed to pick up the kids. Parents were stuck and no-one knew what the situation was. It's a huge disaster."
Avraham described the city façade as a place that would be unrecognizable to anyone who has visited the city before. "There is horrendous damage in the city center, buildings and offices that completely collapsed. Two buildings collapsed on buses and crushed the passengers. We're still in shock and can't even put our thoughts into words. There are simply no words to describe this.
Woman being rescued in Christchurch (Photo: Reuters)
In her capacity as a travel agent, Avraham is in constant contact with many of the young tourists in the city, she stated that there are many Israelis there and that power has been restored so they can now make contact with their families back in Israel. The Chabbad House was hit and isn't functioning so the whereabouts of many Israelis remain unknown.
'We offered aid wherever needed'
"We could never imagine that our trip would turn into this disaster," said tourists Adi Chai, 21 and Leor Faigon, 21. "We're fine, a bit shocked, but most importantly – alive. Three months we've been travelling here and we've never felt anything like this anywhere. Nothing prepared us for this. Just yesterday we were touring near the epicenter of the quake, we spent hours at the fair and went into the cathedral which is now completely destroyed, it's crazy."
After the quake, the two went out to the city center to help the wounded. "I was a medic in the IDF, so we thought we could help out. We got to the center of town, and found that Israelis were already at the scene helping and providing medical assistance. We just put on the orange vests and pitched in. We offered aid wherever it was needed," Chai stated.
Faigon, who used to be a Magen David Adom volunteer, told Ynet of the difficult scene: "They wouldn't let us go in to rescue people trapped in the buildings. We did whatever we could to help – first aid, organization. It was terrible.
The two said that shelters were being erected throughout the city. "Many residents who were left homeless are staying at the 'tent cities' in the main park and other central locations. We even saw one of the destroyed Chabbad House residents, who was always a welcoming host, arriving at the assembly point with his wife and daughter. Israelis are all signing in at the embassy per the ambassador's request to make sure everyone is ok."
Along with the frightened tourists abroad, at home in Israel, concerned families sat and waited for hours going out of their minds with worry – until they received the longed for phone calls. "We heard about the disaster at 6:30 am. From that moment we have been glued to our TV screens waiting for a sign of life," said Malchi Ashkenazi, whose daughter, Sapir, arrived in Christchurch last week.
It took four hours for them to receive the sign of life – a text message from Sapir: "Don't worry, I'm fine," she wrote.
Roee Mendel contributed to the report
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