/ 23 February 2011

SA govt: Still no word on quake victims

There was still no information available by Wednesday on how many South Africans were affected by Monday’s earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, the department of international relations and cooperation said.

“We still haven’t been able to establish as to whether South Africans have been injured [or killed],” department spokesperson Clayson Monyela said.

“We continue to be in touch with authorities on the ground,” he said.

Monyela said he was aware that people were being evacuated from Christchurch to Wellington.

The embassy there would offer assistance should any South African need it, he said.

“People are calling and making use of the number we provided … we are able to assist them.”

Family members in South Africa could get in touch with the department’s consular section on 012 351 1000 if they need information on the situation.

In the meantime, Monyela appealed that the department be given time and space to retrieve the exact numbers.

‘Terrifying’ situation
Earlier in the day, Dr Tienie Bekker, a clergyman at the Afrikaans Christian Church in Yaldhurst, an area not far from Christchurch International Airport, said three of his congregants’ houses were destroyed in the quake.

“We were lucky that we could buy food as we were on the outskirts. Many have had to be helped. Drinking water is minimal in quite a few areas. A lot of people are without power,” the 53-year-old Bekker told the South Africa Press Association.

“They have cordoned off the central business district and they are urging us to stay at home and travel as little as possible, because we are blocking routes for emergency services.”

Hundreds of emergency workers struggled on Wednesday to find survivors in the piles of rubble left after the 6,3-magnitude earthquake ripped through the city on Monday.

Bekker said he was dazed when the tremor started shaking objects around him at 1pm.

“I was just out on my way to an appointment after midday, had just finished lunch, when I felt this wave,” he said.

“My house started moving up and down. My wife compared the experience to a tumble dryer on a rollercoaster. It was horrific with things falling and cracking. I was terrified.

“I lost my arm in a war [in Angola in 1984], but this terrified me more. The sound it makes. Afterward, you get an eerie silence.”

The quake left at least 75 people dead and over 300 people missing. — Sapa