Friday 23 February 2018

Family fear worst for dad trapped in rubble

Majella O'Sullivan, Kevin Keane and Louise Hogan

HOPES were fading last night that an Irishman believed to be trapped underneath rubble in New Zealand would be found alive.

The family of John Joe or JJ O'Connor (40), a native of Lisereen, Abbeydorney, Co Kerry, feared the worst as the Department of Foreign Affairs was still unable to confirm if there were any survivors in the Pyne Gould Guinness (PGG) building in Christchurch where he worked.

It had been reported that the father of one was still alive, raising hopes that a miracle might emerge four days after the 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck. But these hopes were dashed after a police spokesman said the information being reported was "not correct".

"I went to that scene (of the building) and I spoke to the commander of the rescue operation and that was the first he had heard of it," Superintendent Russell Gibson said.

Mr O'Connor and his New Zealand-born wife, Sarah, are expecting their second child in May. They already have a two-year-old son, Dan. The couple had been living in New Zealand since last October when they moved there from England.

Last night his uncle, Denis O'Connor, said the family was in contact with Sarah, who was outside the PGG building anxiously awaiting news.

"We just don't know, we've heard so many conflicting reports at this stage," Mr O'Connor told the Irish Independent.


"It would probably take a miracle now at this stage but we'll keep the fingers crossed for another bit."

New Zealand's civil defence minister John Carter described it as "unlikely" that any more survivors would be found. But there was joy for the family of one Irish woman who turned up alive 36 hours after the quake.

She had not been seen since she went to collect her children from school shortly before the earthquake struck.

Meanwhile, a Tyrone man has been hailed a hero. Rosemary Irwin said her husband Tony pushed her into a doorway to escape the devastation near Christchurch Cathedral.

The couple, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, were due to visit the cathedral. Mrs Irwin said: "We were at the very top of the street when the most incredible quake happened, the ground both rolling and rising.

"My husband is a hero in this because it was his quick thinking that saved us both."

Around 20 people are believed to have died after the spire collapsed at the cathedral. Police are still searching for more than 200 people.

As the death toll reached 103 last night, Irish ambassador to Australia Martin O Fainin arrived in Christchurch to assist the family of the one confirmed Irish victim.

Owen McKenna (40), from Emyvale, Co Monaghan, was killed by falling debris that crushed his car.

Irish Independent

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