600 foreign rescuers expected

MARTIN KAY
Last updated 05:00 24/02/2011
HERE TO HELP: Members of an Australian specialist urban search and rescue team help with the rescue effort in Christchurch.
ROBYN EDIE/ The Southland Times
HERE TO HELP: Members of an Australian specialist urban search and rescue team help with the rescue effort in Christchurch.

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Christchurch earthquake

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More than 600 emergency workers from six countries will help in the search for Christchurch quake survivors.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the Government had accepted help from Australia, the United States, Britain, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan after deciding it was too risky to turn down offers without knowing the full extent of the search and rescue needs.

"We've got some very good friends. The phones have been very busy with people wishing us well, and of course, we've erred on the side of caution.

"We are some distance away from some of these countries, but we made a deliberate decision ... that we could see that there was going to be a need for some days to have expert assistance and we weren't shy in asking for it.

"People have been very understanding about the lack of certainty and prepared to commit on the basis that we needed people here quickly with the appropriate skills."

Two Australian specialist urban search and rescue teams comprising about 100 personnel landed in Christchurch and went to work yesterday, and a 22-strong medical team has also been dispatched from across the Tasman.

Australia is also sending 290 sworn and unsworn police officers, mainly from New South Wales, after a request from Canterbury district commander Superintendent Dave Cliff.

Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls said the officers, who would not be armed, would work alongside New Zealand police and have full powers. They were all expected on the ground by Friday and would stay for up to 14 days initially.

Ten disaster victim identification officers were also being sent.

Mr McCully said 116 personnel were coming from Singapore, including a 55-strong disaster relief team due last night. Two Singapore military aircraft are due today with extra equipment.

The US is sending a 75-member specialist urban search and rescue squad and Japan – which has internationally recognised expertise in earthquake recovery – is sending 60 personnel.

Taiwan has sent a team of 24 searchers and a 63-strong British unit arrives tonight.

Civil Defence Minister John Carter said that more than 200 urban search and rescue specialists would provide a huge boost to the rescue effort, allowing investigations of all buildings in which there might be survivors by the end of the week.

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

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It 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.

More than 235 police from around New Zealand have also been sent to Christchurch, including 50 from Auckland, 30 from Counties-Manukau and 50 from Wellington.

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Six countries have sent teams to help in the rescue operation:

AUSTRALIA

Two specialist search and rescue teams of about 100 people in total.

A 22-strong medical team.

300 police on the way, with the last due by Friday.

UNITED STATES

A specialist urban search and rescue team of 75 personnel, due to arrive this morning.

JAPAN

A contingent of 60 search and rescue personnel, arriving today. Japan is recognised as a world leader in earthquake-disaster recovery.

SINGAPORE

116 personnel, including a 55-member search and rescue squad which arrived last night, military staff who were already in New Zealand and two military planes with extra equipment today.

BRITAIN

A 63-member search and rescue team is due to arrive tonight.

TAIWAN

A group of 24 search and rescue specialists.

- The Dominion Post

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