Language school became New Zealand quake disaster zone


When Lalane Agatep boarded her flight to Christchurch last Sunday, the Filipina was laughing and thrilled at the prospect of completing an English language course to launch a new career as a nurse in New Zealand.

Now the 38-year-old is now listed as missing, feared entombed with up to 120 others in the CTV building which was devastated in Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

Her distraught sister Leila Garcia and brother-in-law James arrived in New Zealand’s second city on Friday, praying she would be miraculously found alive, but knowing they faced the grim prospect she had not survived.

“We last saw her on Sunday when we dropped her off at the airport in Wellington. She was coming to Christchurch to study at English at King’s Education,” James Garcia said as he comforted his weeping wife.

“She was so happy. She was working at a retirement home and needed to study English to become a nurse. This was to be her new life. Now we can only hope she is all right, but…” He could not complete the sentence.

Agatep was one of five missing students who were on just their second day at King’s Education college, a busy school on the third floor of the CTV building which also housed a local television station.

Up to 120 people are feared buried in the remains of the modern, six-storey office block, which collapsed into a smoking ruin in what has become the disaster’s biggest tragedy.

Nine of King’s staff are missing, among a list of about 50 people from the school including many Japanese, Chinese and Filipino students. A brother and sister from South Korea are also unaccounted for in the disaster.

The Korean siblings’ father arrived in Christchurch Thursday to search for the pair.

“My son and daughter must be alive,” said 57-year-old Yoo Sang-cheol, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

“I hear that some of the injured people have not yet been identified, so I’m going to go to the hospitals immediately,” he said. “I’m certain that my son and daughter will be among them,” he said as he burst into tears.

Tales of heroism and extreme luck have arisen from the building’s ashes, with Japan’s Kento Okuda, 19, freed only after having his right leg amputated. Despite his ordeal, Okuda remained positive and optimistic.

“Despite this incident, I still want to visit many other countries. I hope to get a job where I can use English,” he told Japanese media, smiling and flashing a victory sign for the cameras.

New Zealand media said one King’s teacher stepped out of a window and walked across the rubble to safety as the entire building collapsed around her.

But tragically, the expectations are that many others in the building will not have survived. Foreign Minister Murray McCully said he had told diplomats from affected countries to expect bad news.

“I’ve said to them that while we do not have the information that those families would want, we are at a point where some very negative conclusions need to be drawn,” McCully said.

“There will be families receiving the worst type of news in the next few days.”

Christchurch city councillor Jimmy Chen, who has been appointed to liaise with families of the Chinese missing, said there was high anxiety among relatives who are unable to travel to New Zealand.

“There is a lot of anxiety among the families who can’t get here. They want up-to-date status regarding their children,” he said.

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