Prime Minister Julia Gillard has confirmed a long-term Australian resident has died in the

Christchurch earthquake.


Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra the man was a New Zealander by birth but has been an Australian permanent resident.

She said the man’s wife and children live in Australia.

“He lost his life in the earthquake as a result of being trapped in rubble,” Ms Gillard said, adding that a passer-by came to his assistance and was able to communicate with him for a time.

The prime minister said the government was also working to get a field hospital to the earthquake area.

“This is a big disaster – very pressing on the New Zealand people … and we will be there supporting New Zealand at every stage.”

Hundreds of Australians safe

Earlier, the PM said that at least 417 Australians have been found safe after Christchurch’s horrendous 6.3-magnitude earthquake, but there are grave concerns for four who are missing.

One long-term Australian resident had lost his life in the disaster, the PM said, adding that he had been helped in his last hours by a passer by.

“… It appears this person was a family man and our condolences go to his family who would be struggling with this news,” Ms Gillard said.

“Our thanks would go to that stranger and I think that’s an emblem of the kind of spirit that we see in Christchurch as people get together to help each other,” she said.

Ms Gillard said officials were seeking to confirm the safety of 1,094 Australians known to be in the area, who had not yet been in touch. There are an estimated 8,500 in the Canterbury region.

Text messages from the rubble

New Zealand police have warned the death toll of 65 is expected to rise as rescuers sift through the rubble, brick by brick, after the tremor rocked the South Island city.

Trapped survivors had managed to send text messages from beneath the rubble, Ms Gillard said.

There are scant details available about the nationalities of victims.

Meanwhile the first planeload of New South Wales Urban Search and Rescue staff touched down in New Zealand this morning to join the painstaking search for survivors.

More will arrive today from Queensland, and an Australian Medical Assistance Team is also expected to be deployed.

Qantas and Air New Zealand have arranged additional flights from Christchurch when the city’s airport reopens to international traffic later on Wednesday.

“Our consular team will be assisting people to make arrangements to travel from Christchurch and return home,” Ms Gillard said.

Aussie teams

Ms Gillard also emphasised that Australia was standing by to help New Zealand any way possible.

“My message to Prime Minister (John) Key is please ask, we’ll do everything we can,”she said.

The Australian government is deploying various forms of assistance to the quake-devastated city:

* 36 NSW Urban Search and Rescue staff arrived in New Zealand early on Wednesday morning.

* 34 more NSW USAR staff are expected to travel to New Zealand by military aircraft later on Wednesday morning along with two Emergency Management Australia staff.

* 70 Queensland USAR staff will also travel to Christchurch on Wednesday.

* An Australian Medical Assistance Team is also expected to deploy on Wednesday.

The DFAT consular emergency centre had taken almost 5000 calls and registered 1500 cases.

Lost passports

Australians who have lost their passports in the earthquake are advised to present themselves at the airport early and to advise their airline that they are travelling without a passport due to the earthquake.

Provided they can answer some basic questions on their identity, they will be able to fly.

If people have concerns for the welfare of Australian family and friends in Christchurch, they should first attempt to contact them directly, DFAT said.

Where possible, use text messaging (SMS), email or social messaging such as twitter to minimise loading on the telecommunications network.

If people are unable to contact them and still hold concerns for their welfare, they should call the 24-hour consular emergency centre on 1300 555 135.

Consular staff

Australia has three consular officials on the ground in Christchurch, including its deputy high commissioner.

Seven staff, including the high commissioner, will be travelling to Christchurch from Wellington on Wednesday.

Six DFAT staff from Canberra and four Centrelink social workers are flying to New Zealand.

At this stage, there are more than 1500 Australians registered as being in Christchurch and an estimated 8500 in the Canterbury region.

“We have confirmed the safety of more than 400 Australians and are seeking to confirm the status of about 1000 who are known or believed to be in the earthquake-affected area,” the DFAT spokesperson said.

Australian officials in Christchurch are contacting registered Australians to confirm their safety and well-being.