30 Israelis Unaccounted for After New Zealand Earthquake

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Thirty Israelis in New Zealand remain unaccounted for, Israel's consul in Wellington, Teddy Poplinger, said yesterday. He said there is particular concern for three or four of them who were seen in Christchurch at the time of the Tuesday's earthquake.

"We have a list of Israelis in the area, but we believe most of them were not in Christchurch at the time of the earthquake. We mainly want to make sure that they all contact their families," Poplinger said.

"We are trying with the authorities' help to locate three or four Israelis who were in town when the quake hit," he added.

By yesterday afternoon rescue teams had not yet reached Israeli backpacker Ofer Mizrahi, 23, who was trapped in a car under the ruins in the earthquake.

Gabi Ingel and Ofer Levy, both 22 and from Rehovot, were apparently in Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest city, before the earthquake. Their families have been trying to contact the Red Cross and other rescue organizations, as well as backpackers forums and anyone else who may know of the Israelis' whereabouts.

"As long as there's no proof to the contrary, I am optimistic," Ofer's mother, Galila Levy said. "We keep getting conflicting reports and need a lot of patience."

She said Ofer was scheduled to leave New Zealand for Hong Kong on Friday, and return to Israel on Sunday.

"They are both serious guys and we figured that if they hadn't left town, they probably joined the rescue efforts," Galila Levy said.

"We are very worried but hoping for the best and that they'll get in touch soon," said Matan Hazanovich, a close friend of the two missing men who had gone hiking with them in New Zealand. "I only returned 10 days ago, it was our post-army trip."

Three other Israeli youngsters in the area who have not contacted their families yet either are Dimona residents Chen Ben Hemo, Roi Vaknin and Shlomo Avitan.

"We know they went on a trek and we haven't been able to get in touch with them for a few days," said Tzipi Ben Hemo, Chen's mother. "We sent them text messages telling them to go to the nearest police station and report that they are there."

"They are all serious, responsible guys who know how to handle themselves in the wild," she added.

Rescue teams still have not reached Ofer Mizrahi, who was said to be trapped in a car when the earthquake hit.

Mizrahi, 23, of Kibbutz Magal, was at the wheel of a car carrying three of his friends when the earthquake struck and a concrete girder crushed the vehicle.

Michal Friedman and Liron Sadot, who were sitting in the back seat, managed to crawl out. Guy Yordan broke the passenger seat window and got himself out. But their efforts to get Mizrahi out of the car failed.

Orit Friedman, Michal's sister, said the three were making their way back to Israel.

"Michal sounded excited and stressed. She, Guy Yordan and Liron Sadot are on their way back. They were left with nothing but their passports, which they carried on them. The last time we spoke to her was on Tuesday night when they left Wellington," she said.

Chabad's representative in Christchurch, Rabbi Shmuel Friedman, said the organization's building in the city was destroyed and the synagogue was slightly damaged. Nobody was hurt.

"The Chabad house was completely ruined. Two people were inside of it, but they got out unharmed," he said.