Sunday 28 May 2017

Fears grow for two more Irish missing in quake zone

A police dog searches in the rubble with his handler in Christchurch. Photo: AP
A police dog searches in the rubble with his handler in Christchurch. Photo: AP
Owen McKenna, a nurse from Co Monaghan died in the devastating earthquake

Fears were mounting for two more Irish people in New Zealand after the devastating earthquake that crushed a Monaghan man to death in his car.

Authorities have been unable to contact the missing pair who were both thought to have been in Christchurch when the disaster struck.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it had "serious concerns" for the as yet unidentified Irish nationals after all efforts to get in touch with them failed.

Officials working with their families stressed that there are issues with mobile telephone networks in New Zealand since the tremor tore apart buildings in Christchurch on the south island on Tuesday, killing at least 76 people.

One of the dead, Owen McKenna from Co Monaghan, had been living in the country for about six years.

Believed to be aged in his 40s, he worked as a psychiatric nurse and was a well-known figure in his local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). He moved abroad after marrying a woman from New Zealand.

Former school friends said the father-of-two had trained and worked in London and also spent some time in Saudi Arabia, where he met his wife.

Fabian Murphy, an old school friend from St McCartan's College in Monaghan, last met Mr McKenna when he returned home for a short visit in July 2009.

"He was as funny as ever. I have known him since we were four years old," Mr Murphy said.

"He was one of the funniest people ever, even in 2009, the night's craic we had was just like old times.

"We'll really miss him."

It is understood the hospital where Mr McKenna worked contacted the family in the Emyvale area of Monaghan to say he had not arrived for work after the powerful 6.3-magnitude quake struck.

Mr McKenna's car was crushed by falling debris.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it is believed a second man killed in the quake was married to an Irish woman. Officials are working to firmly establish his nationality.

A spokeswoman said they are "pretty sure" everyone on a larger list of about 50 Irish people living in the area are safe but they are awaiting confirmation.

As rescue workers continued to comb through the rubble, 39 bodies were identified at a temporary morgue at the central police station.

There are fears that more than 100 could still be buried - 120 people have been rescued so far.

Press Association

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