UPDATED Feb. 23 12:31 p.m.
A total of 3 firefighters from Los Angeles County Fire Department Division III – have deployed as part of the USAR Task Force, which is awaiting deployment to New Zealand.
Two of the firefighters are from Santa Clarita fire stations and one is from La Canada. Their flight has been delayed and they are scheduled to depart at 3 pm Wednesday, pending no further delays.
The firefighters are members of California Task Force 2, Los Angeles County Fire’s world-class Heavy Rescue Task Force, are part of an international rescue effort in response to a magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck Christchurch, the nation’s second-largest city Tuesday just before 1 p.m. At least 75 people are confirmed dead and according to Christchurch police officials, 300 have been reported missing.
The quake was centered three miles from the city at a depth of 2.5 miles, much closer to the surface than the last temblor that struck the area, a 7.1 magnitude incident on September 4, 2010. Officials from the US Geological Survey have indicated that Monday’s quake is an aftershock of that event.
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Commanders of the 74-member team received the request from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Help from other countries is also enroute; Australia sent a Hercules aircraft with 40 rescue specialists and more crews and the British Foreign Office announced that a 62-strong team of emergency workers would soon arrive in New Zealand .
According to the New Zealand Police website, Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls, Specialist Operations, Police National Headquarters, says the focus has been, and continues to be, the rescue of those people who are alive and trapped in the rubble.
“We will continue to work together with civil defense, emergency services and military personnel until everyone is accounted for,” he said, adding that authorities expect the death toll to grow much larger.
Christchurch Police Superintendent Russell Gibson said that many people are still unaccounted for and work is ongoing to match up reports of missing people with specific locations and buildings. Police are also aware of there being a number of deceased people in both buildings. The focus of Police and Urban Search and Rescue at this stage is the rescue of those still trapped, rather than the recovery of the dead.
“It is difficult to speculate on the total death toll as it is such a rapidly evolving situation,” Gibson said. “We know it will be significant and we know there are a lot of people going through the nightmare ordeal of waiting for news of their loved ones. All of the agencies involved in this operation are working as hard as possible to bring some clarity to the situation and some answers families and friends.”
The quake severely damaged several large buildings in the downtown area, including the Christchurch Cathedral, where the landmark spires tumbled down. Shockwaves shook 30 millions tons of ice from Tasman Glacier in the Southern Alps, forming icebergs in the lake and causing waves up to 11 feet in height to sweep up and down the lake for 30 minutes.
California Congressman Dan Lundgren and a group of Representatives from the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific working on a trade mission left Christchurch less than three hours before the quake struck.
California Task Force 2 (CA-TF2) is a specially-trained and equipped Urban Search and Rescue Task Force consisting of Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters and paramedics rescue specialists, emergency room physicians, structural engineers, heavy equipment specialists, hazardous materials technicians, communications specialists, and logistics specialists. This unique technical rescue team responds with 55,000 pounds of prepackaged search and rescue tools and medical equipment to conduct around-the-clock search and rescue operations at domestic and international disasters, both natural and man-made.
The international number for people out of the country who are worried about the wellbeing of relatives or friends in Christchurch is 0064 785 02199.