Disaster Alert: Earthquake in New Zealand

A building in Christchurch, New Zealand, is destroyed after an earthquake struck Tuesday. (AP/Pam Johnson)

New Zealand

During the lunch-time rush hour today, New Zealand’s south island experienced a 6.3 magnitude earthquake – reportedly an aftershock of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake, which struck the same area on September 4, 2010.

Today’s earthquake has been followed by several aftershocks creating and compounding widespread damage throughout Christchurch. Authorities estimate the death toll has reached 65 and is expected to rise. Collapsed buildings in the center of the city and damage to roads and bridges have also been reported. Electricity supplies have been cut to about half of the city and Christchurch airport is closed.

Immediately, the New Zealand Red Cross began providing first aid assistance and distributing blankets to the displaced families. It has started national restoring family linking activities and opened one evacuation center for approximately 2,000 people.

As of now, the New Zealand Red Cross has not asked for international assistance, but is receiving some support from its neighbors – the Australian Red Cross – based on the preexisting regional agreements. We expect by tomorrow they will provide more information on whether international assistance from the American Red Cross will be needed. We’ll continue to update you as the American Red Cross role and this disaster evolves.

If you are concerned about relatives living and who have citizenship in New Zealand, please be patient and call repeatedly until the lines clear or contact other family members who live nearby. Telephone, Internet and other communication lines are often disrupted in times of disaster. You can also request assistance from the New Zealand Red Cross to help locate missing relatives by dialing +64 7 850 2199.

Google has launched its Person Finder site, which allows people in Christchurch to upload or request information about individuals for family linking purposes.
People trying to locate U.S. citizens living or traveling in New Zealand should contact the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at 1-888-407-4747 or 202-647-5225.

To arrange media interviews with an American Red Cross spokesperson in New Zealand about the local earthquake response, please call 202-303-5551.