EARTHQUAKE victim Eoin McKenna had phoned his wife to tell her he was going shopping – just a few minutes before he was killed.
The Monaghan-born psychiatric nurse, who was yesterday named as one of two Irish victims in the New Zealand disaster, had called to let her know he was planning to cook a meal for the family that evening and had gone to buy the ingredients.
He was parked in a multi-storey car park in the city of Christchurch when the 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck just before 1pm.
His wife Sarah had been visiting relatives on neighbouring islands with the couple’s two children Grace, six, and Tadhg, five.
Moments after the call ended, 41-year-old Mr McKenna – who had moved to New Zealand about six years ago – was killed when his car was crushed by falling masonry.
The earthquake tore through the country’s second largest city when it hit at lunchtime on Tuesday, causing buildings to collapse, ripping up roads and sparking a series of fatal fires.
More than 300 people are still unaccounted for – including three Irish nationals – and while the death toll is officially 75, the final figure is expected to be much higher.
There are around 200 Irish nationals living in the city, which was last hit by an earthquake just over five months ago.
All but 50 had been accounted for last night.
Although officials are confident they will be able to locate the bulk of these, they have confirmed that another Irish male had died in the earthquake.
His identity was not being released last night but he is believed to have been from Northern Ireland and – like Mr McKenna – was married to a New Zealand woman.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said: ‘We are currently working our way through the list of residents we have and we are confident we will be able to reach most of them.
‘We can confirm that two Irishmen have died and we remain seriously concerned about the welfare of two Irish people.
‘It is still too early to say anything about where in Ireland they are from. ‘The situation could change overnight.’
Although rescue workers were working round the clock last night under hastily erected floodlights, hopes of finding any more survivors were fading fast.
There are, for example, believed to be at least 100 bodies in the city’s Canterbury at least 100 bodies in the city’s Canterbury TV building, from where a number of people had been rescued yesterday by teams frantically searching through the ruins.
Rescuers included Donegal builder Patrick McGowen, who told the Mail on Tuesday of his efforts to save a woman trapped in the rubble.
The news of Mr McKenna’s death had confirmed the family’s worst fears. As events unfolded, they had anxiously awaited any information they could glean from TV and radio news, Department of Foreign Affairs officials and his distraught wife.
But last night, Mr McKenna’s siblings were gathered at his mother Teresa’s countryside bungalow in Truagh, near Emyvale village in north Co. Monaghan.
Fr Sean Nolan, parish priest and a friend of the family, said last night: ‘Teresa says that Sarah spoke to him on the phone a short time before the earthquake hit and he told her that he was planning to do the shopping so he would have food for them in the house when they got back home.
‘Then, when Sarah heard the news later she immediately grew concerned for his safety and had to try and travel back to Christchurch with the children.’
Not being able to reach him on his mobile phone, she feared the worst. His body is believed to have been recovered late Tuesday night but the family did not receive official confirmation of his death until yesterday morning.
Mr McKenna is survived by Bernadette, Maria, Kieran, Enda, Angela, Brendan and Catherine.
His father Michael – who was also a psychiatric nurse – died of cancer in 1995. Fr Nolan said: ‘Teresa has great spiritual strength, which she is drawing on at this very difficult time.
All his brothers and sisters are rallying around her now.
They’re obviously devastated as are the people of the community of Truagh.’
Mr McKenna was involved in his local GAA club as a youngster playing in under-18 and under-21 championships.
Truagh GAA club chairman Raymond Treanor told the Mail: ‘It’s such a tragedy to happen to such a nice family.
I went to school with Eoin, I was maybe ten years ahead of him and he was always a very active, bright, nice guy.
I last met him at a seniors match he attended when he was home about two summers ago, and he was very content in New Zealand and raising his young family over there.’
Mr McKenna had left Ireland initially to train and work at Guy’s Hospital in London.
Then he accepted a post in Saudi Arabia where he met Sarah Lothian, who is also a psychiatric nurse.
The couple are believed to have married there before moving to her native New Zealand to set up home.
He was last back in Co. Monaghan with his wife and children just under two years ago.
A family friend said last night: ‘They are a very close-knit family and he is the only one who is abroad.
They all did their best to stay in regular touch.
It wasn’t always easy because of the distance.’
Such was his love of his native county, however, that he is understood to have written into his will his desire to be buried in Monaghan.
A family friend added that as a result, mother Teresa and some of his siblings will be flying to New Zealand to bring his body home.
Meanwhile, a Meath woman has told how she had just left Christchurch Cathedral shortly before it collapsed in the earthquake.
Anne Jennings, 31, from Dunboyne, had only arrived in the city on Monday. ‘We were about to go into the Canterbury museum when it happened. We didn’t know what was going on.
‘The ground literally just shook.
I could see a bench which I thought I could hang on to. But you couldn’t move because the ground was moving so much.
I got to the bench and crouched down and there was a man beside me. I felt secure knowing he was there.
‘It was over quite quick and we were lucky we were outside in the Botanic Gardens because a half an hour earlier we would have been in the cathedral.
‘We were advised to walk the long way around to our hostels as the city was closed off.
We managed to get our bags and just leave.’