Devastated Christchurch Population Urged to Relocate After Aftershocks

Rubble from collapsed buildings and fallen facades fill the streets of downtown Christchurch, New Zealand, following Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude earthquake. (Photo: Jehuda Nitke)

by Joshua Runyan

Like the rest of Christchurch’s scarred population, Jewish community members in New Zealand’s second-largest city are being forced by a seemingless endless stream of aftershocks to head as far away as possible from the epicenter of yesterday’s 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

With the historic city center, including the headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch of New Zealand, in shambles and at least 65 people killed, citizens were either finding shelter in tent cities established on the outskirts of town, or with kindhearted countrymen on the North Island or in Wellington and Auckland.

Food is scarce; running water is in short supply; electricity is all but nonexistent.

“The entire community is in shock,” reported Tzippy Friedman, who was in the Christchurch Chabad House with her husband, Chabad-Lubavitch of New Zealand co-director Rabbi Shmuel Friedman, when the shaking started.

“It has been a traumatic experience for everyone,” she added as an aftershock induced people to scream all around her, “and it’s still going on.”

According to Friedman, whose own home was severely damaged by the temblor, downtown Christchurch resembled a warzone. As the walls of the Chabad House came crashing down around them, she and her husband, and other personnel and guests fled into the street. Outside, they found a scene of complete and utter devastation.

While at first they set up an emergency rally and information point at Latimer Square just 600 meters away, an aftershock in the middle of the night reduced brick buildings to piles of rubble.

“Everything looked like pancakes; the houses were torn apart,” she said. “The chaos in the streets was intense.”

Chabad-Lubavitch of New Zealand director Rabbi Mendel Goldstein was in Melbourne, Australia, with his family when the quake struck. He and the Friedmans spent most of Tuesday locating a few hundred known Jewish families and assuring their safety. On Wednesday local time, they arranged housing far from the city for those who needed it.

“We contacted everybody we know, and everyone is okay,” said Friedman.

Unconfirmed reports indicated that at least one Israeli tourist was crushed by falling debris, and the Friedmans were cooperating with the Israeli Embassy to counsel expatriates in the area. They urged all visitors to contact family members back home with updates on their safety.

A statement on the Chabad House’s website urged locals to contact the Friedmans if they needed help.

“If you are not coping, or know someone who needs help, please contact us immediately,” read the statement. “We are in touch with professional emergency personnel on the ground who can help.

“We urge all members of the community to consider relocating temporarily,” it continued. “We already have a number of open homes, apartments and hotel rooms waiting to welcome you. There will be many more available shortly.”

Jehuda Nitke, a local resident who provided shelter to the Friedmans and their child, said that a steady stream of aftershocks has kept everyone on edge.

“The water is coming up from the sewers,” he described. “Now is the season when Israeli backpackers come to New Zealand. Everyone is on their own, and they all have to be located.” News Staff Writers Levi Stein and Dovid Zaklikowski contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in News; reprinted with permission.