Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne has updated Parliament on the UK Government's response to the Christchurch earthquake.
In a written statement to Parliament the Foreign Office Minister said:
A significant earthquake hit Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island, at 12.51 pm local time (23:51 GMT) on Tuesday 22 February 2011. The earthquake, which was measured at 6.3 on the Richter scale, caused widespread destruction and multiple fatalities in the city centre. There are still frequent aftershocks.
New Zealand is one of our closest allies and there are many close ties between the people of both countries. Around 300,000 British nationals visit New Zealand each year. The New Zealand authorities have confirmed 160 deaths, but this is expected to rise. I understand that at least four British nationals are among the dead. Our High Commission is in contact with the New Zealand police force concerning the formal identification of the deceased. I am unable to rule out further British casualties as the situation develops and more information is made available.
Officials from the British High Commission in Wellington, led by our High Commissioner, were quickly deployed to Christchurch to liaise with the New Zealand authorities and provide consular assistance to British nationals. They have responded to the needs of over 300 British nationals in Christchurch, issued more than 70 emergency passports, made regular visits to hospitals, attended family liaison meetings, kept in close contact with the New Zealand Emergency Operation centre, and provided consular assistance to the families of British victims. The remaining High Commission staff in Wellington have provided assistance on a 24 hour basis to British nationals arriving from Christchurch, whilst Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials from the wider region have been deployed to New Zealand to reinforce our efforts.
In response to a request for assistance from the New Zealand Government, we sent a self sufficient search and rescue team of 63 experts drawn from the British emergency fire and rescue services, including trained paramedics. The UK team are now fully absorbed into the Christchurch search and rescue effort.
In addition, our offer of support in the process of Disaster Victim Identification has been gratefully accepted by the New Zealand authorities. A 10 man team, specially tailored to support the local authorities, has arrived in Christchurch and will provide essential support and expertise in helping to identify any potential British victims and bolster the New Zealand authorities in their wider identification process.