Prison emptied for recovery teams

Last updated 14:58 23/02/2011
SEARCH: Rescuers are working six hour shifts, some through the night.
DEREK FLYNN/Marlborough Express

SEARCH: Rescuers are working six hour shifts, some through the night.

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Christchurch earthquake

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Civil Defence chiefs are moving the nerve centre of their operations to Christchurch this afternoon as rescue efforts enter a second day.

Civil Defence National Controller David Coetzee said Civil Defence head John Hamilton would be flying down from Wellington this afternoon and a national action plan would be ready by tomorrow.

PRISON EMPTIED

Corrections Minister Judith Collins says Rolleston Prison will be emptied to make beds available for emergency services personnel pouring into Christchurch and "anyone who needs it".

Collins said the prison had water, sewage and kitchen facilities and had survived the quake undamaged.

Prisoners from Rolleston would be transferred to Christchurch men's prison.

TOURISTS EVACUATED, RESCUERS FERRIED IN

The Defence Force is transporting traumatised tourists out of Christchurch and rescuers in.

Coetzee said a Defence Force Boeing 757 had been flying all day between Christchurch and Wellington.

People who wanted to be on a flight out should go to the welfare centres in Hagley Park and Burnside High School.

Each of the flights can take up to 100 people.

A centre at Wellington Airport has been set up to help people when they arrive.

There were hundreds of police, defence, local government, search and rescue personnel arriving in Christchurch from around the country and the world.

Building inspectors, engineers and sewage crews were also preparing to leave. "We're pouring in whatever we can and whatever is needed."

The shortage of accommodation available in Christchurch was slowing the flow of help to the city.

Coetzee said they wanted people to stay away from the city unless necessary and would be launching a website this afternoon to coordinate the billeting of rescue workers in homes.

"It's one thing to mobilise people and move them down but they must be able to be accommodated and received at the other end."

Meanwhile, the rescue teams searching buildings were well trained and would focus on where they were most likely to find people alive.

"They will not stop until they're finished, we can just hope that they find the people in time," Coetzee said.

However, he could not confirm that there had been signs of life in any buildings.

The current official death toll of 75 was the number of confirmed deaths in mortuaries, Coetzee said. It did not include those presumed dead.

People in Christchurch would not notice any difference in things on the ground following the change to a national state of emergency.

"The idea is not at all that of taking over, it is Government demonstrating its intent of working better and closer with the local response."

If people wanted to help they should donate cash to one of the established funds, as it was not possible to handle physical goods, Coetzee said.

MEALS ON FRIGATE

The frigate Canterbury will be docked at Lyttelton Port tonight, serving 1000 hot meals for people left homeless by the quake.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said about 1000 military personnel were on the ground working in Christchurch now.

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There would also be logistical support extended to forces arriving Singapore and the United States.

"Defence has been working hard and they know they're going to have to do that over the next few days," Mapp said.

"This is an absolute maximum effort that the Defence Force is putting in, and we're going to do what it takes."

Staff would also be providing specialist medical support to the search and rescue teams, enforcing the CBD cordon and helping with logistics support such as transport and meals.

It was important to get international search and rescue teams in quickly to back up the local staff, Mapp said.

"It will go on for as long as it takes," he said.

EMERGENCY RESPONSE

In response to questions Coetzee said:

* Hundreds more defence and police personnel have been deployed since last night and seven more teams are on the way. Building inspectors and engineers are also being mobilised to help with site inspections.

* Rescue efforts in the Pyne Gould and CTV buildings were continuing - though there appears to be contradictory information about this.

"It might be a painstaking and slow process but that is the way it has to be... we should not expect it will be completed tonight. We can just hope they can find people in time."

* He could not confirm reports that up to 22 people were feared dead at Christchurch cathedral. Documents obtained by NewstalkZB suggest that is one place where a large number of fatalities are feared.

* In response to questions about queues for water being as much as 400 strong, Coetzee said water containers and trucks were being ferried into schools and civil defence was assessing the need.

RESCUE WORKER NUMBERS BOLSTERED

Nearly 300 rescue workers from six countries are on their way to Christchurch to help in the search and rescue operation.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the overseas relief effort included:

* A 40-strong urban search and rescue team which arrived at 5.30 this morning and is already working in the city. A second team arrives at 3pm.

* A 55-strong disaster relief team from Singapore, due to arrive at 8.30pm tonight. It will join a contingent of Singapore military staff who were already in New Zealand when the earthquake hit.

Two Singapore military aircraft are due tomorrow with additional equipment.

* A US specialist search and rescue team of 75 personnel, which arrives tomorrow morning.

* Sixty search and rescue personnel from Japan, expected to arrive tomorrow.

* A specialised search and rescue team of 63 people from the United Kingdom, which arrives tomorrow night.

* Assistance from Taiwan, which has yet to be finalised.

The teams are on top of 300 Australian police who were sought by Commissioner Howard Broad after a request from Canterbury district commander Superintendent Dave Cliff.

McCully said the Government had expressed gratitude for the messages of condolence and offers of assistance made from around the world.

"New Zealanders are deeply humbled by the messages of support and offers of specialist search and rescue help that have flooded in over the past 24 hours from other countries. Support will be critical over the next few days as we reassess the specialist services required to speed the rescue operation."

He said the Government was constantly assessing what was needed in the rescue effort and was actively considering several other offers of help.

The Government was also in close contact with overseas missions in New Zealand to help foreign nationals caught up in the earthquake make contact with family and friends.

Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) national team manager Steve Barclay said 700 rescuers will be in Christchurch by tomorrow night and 1000 will be in the city within three days.

Those numbers include volunteer response teams, trained in lighter rescue operations.

About 120 volunteers are currently at the Civil Defence headquarters at the Christchurch Art Gallery, ready to be dispatched to the Latimer Square hub. They will then be sent on to other priority hubs around the city to back up professional USAR members.

A further 120 volunteers are on their way to the city centre now.

Seven USAR teams are on the ground in Christchurch, including two from New Zealand and five overseas teams from Australia, Japan, the United States and Singapore.

An Australian Defence Force C-130 Hercules aircraft brought in the first group of Australian search and rescue personnel and a second Hercules and C-17 transport jet will bring in more Australian equipment.

Soldiers from the Singapore Armed Forces are providing personnel to man the cordons in the city, along with New Zealand soldiers.

Barclay said rescuers are working six hour shifts, some through the night and continuing today.

"The USAR are professionals, that's their job. Those people are volunteers in the main. We need to be careful with their mental health, it's pretty nasty some of the scenes so we have to keep a close eye on them."

Focus for the next three to four days will remain on light risk operations, Barclay said.

"For obvious reasons all efforts, equipment, planning and intelligence is focused on light risk to make sure we don't miss any buildings and get people help as soon as we can. After that we change focus."

Rescue teams are stationed at 10 high priority areas in the CBD, including the CTV building, PGG building, Cathedral, Lichfield Lanes and the Salvation Army building.

Barclay said the CTV and PGG buildings are "very labour-intensive" sites with up to 60 rescuers working at each site.

There are literally dozens of collapsed buildings still waiting to be assessed, he said.

Dogs are being used to check buildings for trapped people.

Barclay said the Cathedral has been checked, but not thoroughly because the site is too dangerous.

Engineers are working to prioritise sites before tasks and crews are sent in, he said.

Meanwhile, all the sections of the Defence Force are working in Christchurch.

The Defence Force says medical teams are working with local health officials.

Army ambulances and personnel are assisting with various search and rescue tasks throughout the city. 

This morning an RNZAF C-130 Hercules aircraft evacuated people from the city to Wellington and a second aircraft will follow.

Last night an RNZAF Boeing 757 jet carried in a large number of Urban Search and Rescue personnel, as well as sniffer dogs, into the city.

An RNZAF P-3K Orion has also flown over the city and taken imagery of the destruction for analysis by Civil Defence staff.

RNZAF helicopters are also in the city.

The Navy's Multirole Vessel HMNZS Canterbury is in Lyttelton, along with the survey ship Resolution and patrol vessel Pukaki.

The offshore patrol vessel Otago is standing off the harbour entrance and is available if required.  

Two RNZAF C-130 Hercules will provide support as needed.

- By REBECCA TODD/The Press, MICHAEL FIELD, MARTIN KAY, and TRACY WATKINS/Stuff

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