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New Zealand Amateurs Assist in Earthquake’s Aftermath

02/24/2011

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Canterbury region in New Zealand’s South Island on Tuesday, February 22 at 12:51 PM local time (2351 on February 21 UTC). According to IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee Chairman Jim Linton, VK3PC, 10 radio amateurs are using their two emergency broadcast vans to keep rescue teams and Civil Defense staff in touch. One is at a major welfare center, providing portable communication so they can talk to Civil Defense, and the other vehicle is on its way to assist search-and-rescue teams in an area where communication is poor.

“Richard, ZK4FZ, said Amateur Radio operators from around the country are volunteering to help out,” Linton said. “Others are sending updates on the disaster to families of people in Christchurch who are overseas.”

As of February 24, the death toll from the earthquake stands at 98, with dozens yet to be rescued from beneath building rubble and hundreds of people still missing. The massive rescue effort now involves 300 rescuers -- boosted by urban experts from Australia -- and has rescued 20 people so far. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said a pocket of 15 had been found in the TV3 building, the heart of local television production.

Countries around the world have responded with personnel and materials to help the citizens of New Zealand in the aftermath of the earthquake, including the US. The Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force 2 -- a 74 member heavy rescue team consisting of firefighters and paramedics from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, emergency room physicians, structural engineers, heavy equipment specialists, hazardous materials technicians, communications specialists and logistics specialists -- with 26 tons of pre-packaged rescue equipment is now in Christchurch. This unit also responded to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

According to media reports, buildings collapsed around Cathedral Square in downtown Christchurch and the spire atop ChristChurch Cathedral collapsed. The spire’s tip had also fallen in earlier earthquakes, but much more fell during the February 22 earthquake. Police believe 22 people died in the collapse of the cathedral’s tower. The Canterbury Television (CTV) building was severely damaged and caught fire. On February 23, police decided that the damage was not survivable and rescue efforts at the building were suspended. More than 100 people may have died in the building. Firefighting and recovery operations resumed that night, later joined by a Japanese search and rescue squad. Thirteen Japanese students from the Toyama College of Foreign Languages are missing, with some feared trapped in the rubble of the CTV building.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said a State of Emergency continued and those in the affected areas needed to keep their resolve and good spirits as the whole country was right behind them. He acknowledged the support already given and being offered from overseas. Christchurch and its surrounding areas account for 500,000 people, about half the population of the South Island.

There is no word yet on the frequencies being used. Once the ARRL has this information, it will be posted on the ARRL website.  -- Thanks to IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee Chairman Jim Linton, VK3PC, for some information



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