Bodies of two more Israelis identified in Christchurch

Two more hikers remain unaccounted for; death toll from New Zealand quake reaches 155.

missing israelis new zealand 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
missing israelis new zealand 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The bodies of two 22-year-old Israelis – Gabi Ingel and Ofer Levy, both from Rehovot – were positively identified amid the rubble in Christchurch on Tuesday, bringing to three the number of Israelis killed in last week’s devastating earthquake.
The body of the other Israeli, Ofer Mizrahi from Kibbutz Magal, was identified on Sunday.
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Two other Israeli backpackers are still unaccounted for, but they are not believed to have been in Christchurch when the earthquake hit, and may be on a long hike in the mountains and as such unreachable by phone. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has involved himself from the beginning in the ordeal facing the parents of the missing Israeli youth, spoke by phone with Gabi Ingel’s parents, and said “We are grieving and crying with you. All Israel closely followed the attempts to locate your son.”
Gil Ingel, Gabi’s father, thanked Netanyahu for his efforts in trying to locate his son – Netanyahu asked New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to allow private Israeli emergency rescue teams to search for them in the rubble – and said the family derived comfort from “so many good people in Israel, who helped us and turned the world upside-down to try and find Gabi.”
Ingel and Levy arrived in December in New Zealand, a popular destination for Israeli youth on postarmy treks. The bodies of the two were found in the rubble near the center of Christchurch.
New Zealand came to a standstill on Tuesday as people marked the moment the deadly earthquake shattered Christchurch a week ago, and the number of confirmed dead rose by one to 155.
Muffled church bells signalled the moment – 12.51 p.m. – when the magnitude 6.3 quake struck, levelling buildings and sending masonry and bricks onto streets filled with lunchtime shoppers and office workers.
The scale of the disaster meant the national state of emergency declared last week has been extended for a further seven days and is likely to continue for weeks to come, Civil Defense Minister John Carter said.
In the middle of the city, which bore the brunt of the quake, politicians, local officials, rescuers and church leaders gathered around a simple memorial of several bricks taken from the worst hit buildings, covered in flowers.
“We gather to reflect on the precious gift of life,” said the Anglican Bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, whose landmark cathedral was badly damaged and is believed to still have up to 22 bodies inside.
Rescue workers, who have toiled day and night since the quake looking for survivors, dropped their tools and briefly stopped work amid the rubble of levelled buildings.
Near the devastated commercial center, people stood on pavements, beside stopped cars, some holding hands or arm in arm with others, some weeping.
In the capital Wellington, around 4,000 people gathered outside the parliament, where flags at half mast flapped in a cool breeze under leaden skies.
Similar somber gatherings – large and small – were reported around the country of 4.4 million. In Australia, which has sent more than 200 rescue workers and medical staff, the parliament also observed the silence.
No survivors have been found since last week, and police have said the final death toll will probably be around 240, making it the country’s second-worst natural disaster after the 1931 Napier earthquake, which killed 256.
Late in the day emergency stabilization work was completed on the 26-storey Grand Chancellor hotel, which has been deemed highly likely to collapse, allowing rescue workers to enter as far as the fifth floor. Rubble in the building’s stairwell meant access was only available up to the fifth floor at this stage, with no bodies recovered.
Prime Minister Key has said there will be an inquiry into how buildings in the city hit by last September’s force 7.1 quake were passed as safe for use.
Concern had been raised about the condition of the 25-year-old Canterbury Television Building, which housed a language school and where nearly half the confirmed dead were killed. The building owners said they were devastated over the loss of life, and said it had been examined by structural engineers after the September quake.
“The 22 February earthquake appears to have generated unusual forces that relatively modern buildings built to recent seismic standards were not able to withstand,” a spokesman for the owners said.
The overall cost of the February and September quakes combined has been put at about $15 billion, with the second, more destructive, earthquake costing about threequarters of the total.
Finance Minister Bill English repeated that the government can afford the reconstruction, but that it will need to readjust spending priorities.
Shops and cafes have begun reopening in less affected areas, including the first cinema, with limited bus and postal services. Power supplies have been restored to 85 percent of the city, as a 41-ton transformer was installed Tuesday to help get electricity to the worst affected areas, where 10,000 homes have been marked as uninhabitable.
About two-thirds of the city has water but large areas still need to be supplied by tankers, and people are relying on portable toilets for sanitation.