New Zealand Earthquake Destroys Chabad House
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New Zealand Earthquake Destroys Chabad House

(JTA) — An Israeli backpacker is believed to be among the 65 people killed in Tuesday’s quake in New Zealand, and the destruction in Christchurch on the country’s South Island included the city’s Chabad House.

The Israeli, who was not immediately named by Israeli officials, was in a car with three other Israelis when a building collapsed on them during the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that ripped through the city around lunchtime, according to Rabbi Shmuel Friedman, a Chabad rabbi in Christchurch.

Friedman, a New York native who came to Christchurch three months ago to do Jewish outreach work, was inside the offices of the Chabad center with an Israeli backpacker when the first tremor jolted the city just before 1 p.m. local time.

“All of a sudden walls, ceilings started coming in on us, the shake was shifting us side to side,” Friedman said.

"We just ran. I have no idea no idea how we managed to get out of there,” he said. “There were many people in the street in panic and shock; it was not a pretty scene. There were people running out of buildings, a lot of screaming, damage, smoke.”

About 150 Israelis are believed to have been in the city and Rabbi Friedman said many helped in the rescue effort.

“A group went in to help evacuate people in buildings which were collapsing; they were experienced from the army,” he said.

Of New Zealand’s 7,000 Jews, about 2,000 live in Christchurch, with the majority in Auckland and Wellington on the North Island.

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