Geologist with ties to New Zealand reacts to devastation

February 22, 2011 7:23:02 PM PST
The search for survivors in the populated hub of Christchurch takes place as people in the Bay Area with loved ones in New Zealand are watching closely.

Lester McKee is watching events unfold in Christchurch with a sense of horror and worry. Most of his relatives live in and near the area hardest hit by the earthquake. McKee finally reached his mother by phone and knows now his immediate family is fine.

"I got that relief last night at just before midnight, but I still have very good friends who I still haven't heard from," he said.

McKee viewed the latest video with both a personal and professional eye. He has a degree in geology, but his scientific knowledge of earthquakes doesn't lessen the shock of reality.

"No amount of training or reading textbooks can prepare you for seeing people bloodied and hurt," he said.

Search and rescue teams in Christchurch have a huge challenge ahead as they tackle collapsed buildings. At one of the training sites for the Menlo Park Fire Department, an acclaimed national disaster response team has trained a number of international search and rescue crews, including fire personnel from New Zealand.

"I know they are going to try to work fast and furious and do the best they can safely without getting anybody else getting hurt," said Bat. Chief Ben Marra.

The instability of the rubble and aftershocks are always concerns that can slow rescue operations. McKee knows that whatever the final death toll, Christchurch is a community that will come together.

"If it ends up that a hundred people are dead, everyone is going to know somebody," said McKee. "Everybody's going to know somebody that's either injured or died and everybody's going to have a neighbor they need to help."

McKee is scheduled to return home in April, but says if he can help, the disaster may dictate a change in plans.


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