US sends rescue team to help in NZ earthquake

AP News
Posted: Feb 22, 2011 4:10 PM
US sends rescue team to help in NZ earthquake

The United States dispatched a search-and-rescue team to New Zealand on Tuesday after a devastating earthquake killed dozens of people and left another 100 missing, and confirmed that officials comprising two high-level American delegations to the country were unharmed.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton phoned New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully to express her sorrow over the quake, which toppled buildings in Christchurch and killed at least 65 people.

And to assist the humanitarian response, the U.S. sent a team that includes search-and-rescue staff from the Los Angeles County fire department.

"We stand ready to assist the government of New Zealand in any way we can," Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in a statement.

A U.S. delegation of 43 government, business and community leaders was in Christchurch on Tuesday for a U.S.-New Zealand Partnership Forum meeting and Kurt Campbell, the State Department's assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, participated.

The White House said Mariko Silver and Tim Manning, senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also were in Christchurch when the quake struck. They were unharmed.

Nine U.S. congressmen attending the meeting as part of a separate delegation led by Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Ill., left the city several hours before the quake and were in Wellington, U.S. officials and a spokesman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Tuesday. All of those in the two delegations are safe, the department said.

The U.S.-New Zealand forum brings together government and business leaders from both countries to discuss ways the U.S. and New Zealand can work on trade and other regional issues. Others in attendance included former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and his wife, Susan. An aide to Bayh, Beth Chrusciel of the Washington law firm McGuireWoods, said the Bayhs were fine and had left Christchurch.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said officials from both countries were in a meeting discussing plans to broaden the partnership between the United States and New Zealand when the tremor occurred. He said the U.S. would provide whatever assistance New Zealand requires.

"Our long history of friendship and mutual support in times of need is an example of our enduring bond," he told reporters.