Chinese rescuers spring into action in NZ

By He Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-02-26 07:42
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Chinese rescuers spring into action in NZ
The Chinese rescue team, consisted of one expert in seism, two experts in mechanics, seven rescuers and equipped with radar life detectors, arrived in Christchurch on Friday. Over 200 people remain missing following major earthquake in Christchurch.[Photo/Xinhua]

BEIJING / Christchurch - A team sent from China began search-and-rescue operations immediately upon arriving on Friday in the center of Christchurch, where an earthquake killed at least 113 people, while 200 remain missing.

The Chinese International Search and Rescue Team (CISAR), a unit of 10 experienced rescuers equipped with radar life-detectors, landed in the city at 3:30 pm local time and reached the rescue command center within 20 minutes, said Wang Xin, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in New Zealand.

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This is the first time the CISAR has been sent to a developed country, said Zhao Ming, the team's leader.

Zhao told China Daily the team, which has received a special UN certificate for disaster assessment, has a seismology expert, two mechanics experts and seven rescuers, who all have experience in major disaster rescues, notably the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The 6.3-magnitude quake in Christchurch on Tuesday left the densely populated city center in shambles, leveling countless dwellings, where limbs protruded from disintegrated concrete. According to Zhao, major city landmarks such as the iconic Christchurch Cathedral, have been reduced to piles of rubble, where many bodies may lie buried.

Wang said New Zealand authorities have released the first four names of the 113 confirmed victims as of Friday. Each of the four were local.

Though 70 people have been rescued since the first day, The Associated Press quoted Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker as saying early Friday, Zhao was pessimistic about the chance of finding more survivors "because the golden time for rescue has passed".

"The destruction is beyond imagination," Zhao said, after the Chinese team was briefed on the basic conditions and latest developments in the rescue operation by teams from the United States, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

About 1,000 rescuers are at the scene, working under the coordination of New Zealand police agencies, Zhao said.

Zhao spoke highly of the city's restoration of order, because "under such circumstances, multinational teams are able to work in a cooperative manner".

However, with many of the buildings tilting and beyond repair, Zhao conceded that the massive search-and-rescue efforts would turn more to the recovery of bodies.

The smoldering ruins of the former Canterbury Television (CTV) office block, which also housed an English school for foreign students, trapped more than 100 people. Dozens of bodies had been pulled from the rubble and many more were thought to still be inside.

Wang said the Chinese embassy has established three emergency hotlines to handle requests for aid and inquiries.

A Chinese student named Lai Chang who was buried beneath the rubble of the CTV building called her family at their home in South China's Guangdong province soon after the quake to tell them she was trapped.

Her father contacted the embassy in New Zealand and it alerted search-and-rescue authorities in Christchurch, Wang said.

Lai is still trapped.

There are still 26 Chinese citizens still missing in the disaster, Wang said, quoting statistics released by local police. "We are providing every possible assistance to speed the process of the rescue."