New Zealand earthquake - Reuters - Feb 24, 2011
A rescue worker in Christchurch, New Zealand, on February 24, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Three friends of Ofer Mizrahi, 23, of Kibbutz Magal who went missing in New Zealand returned to Israel yesterday and spoke of the difficult moments they experienced during the earthquake that struck Christchurch on Tuesday.

The three, Guy Yurdan and Michal Friedman from Kibbutz Magal and Liron Sadeh from Moshav Gan Yoshiya, went straight to Kibbutz Magal after they landed, where they met with Mizrahi's parents and told them about the death of their son in the earthquake.

Yurdan, who had been traveling with Mizrahi for the past three months in Australia, said he wanted to let all those who were hoping for a miracle to know that Mizrahi had been killed. "He did not suffer, he was killed on the spot, and his body is awaiting identification," Yurdan said.

Yurdan said that when the quake struck the four had been sitting in their van and eating.

"The van started to shake, we didn't understand what was going on," Yurdan explained. "Ofer came to his senses first and said that it was an earthquake and we had to get out of the van right away."

Yurdan continued, "As we started to get out of the van, a huge heavy chunk of concrete fell on us. Ofer was in the driver's seat and I was sitting beside him. I saw that the women sitting in the back of the van had gotten out, and then I looked at Ofer and saw that he was hit. I grabbed him and saw that he had head wounds. I realized that he was killed instantly."

Yurdan said that when the ground stopped shaking, he broke a window, got out of the van and called for help. "But we were made to leave the area because the nearby building began to collapse."

Friedman said that she and Sadeh had arrived in New Zealand on Sunday after their long tour of Australia, and met up with Yurdan and Mizrahi. "Ofer was very excited, and said, 'Now we're starting on a new adventure,'" Friedman said, adding that the foursome had planned to continue their trip together.

Meanwhile, family and friends of Gabi Ingel and Ofer Levy from Rehovot, who are still unaccounted for after the quake, are still waiting for word on the pair's whereabouts. They have set up an unofficial command post to glean every bit of information on the pair, and have posted a message on a travelers' website in Hebrew and on a Facebook page their friends opened to assist in the search. "Please help us find Gabi Ingel ... who disappeared in Christchurch. Gabi was traveling with his childhood friend Ofer Levy. They were planning on going to work in vineyards."

Friends who had traveled with Levy and Ingel in Australia contacted all the vineyards in the area, to no avail.

Updated information the Levy family received last night now indicates that the pair were apparently in the center of Christchurch when the quake hit. Since then, friends and family have been trying to discover which route they may have taken since they were last seen at a hostel in the city, to the intended meeting point with the man who was to have organized them work in a vineyard.

Ofer Levy's mother Galilia and his sister Tamar remained glued to the computer screen in the family's home, trying to ascertain via Google Maps which roads they might have taken. They family is hoping to be able to send information to rescue crews about where the two might be, and believes Levy and Ingel might be trapped in the rubble of a building. They are now trying to get a signal from Levy's cell phone.

From time to time, Mordechai Levy, Ofer's father, received a new sliver of information by phone about where the two were in the last moments before the disaster.