China takes on excavation effort The China International Search and Rescue Team, the country’s main earthquake-rescue organization, will invest almost $15 million this year to more than double its capabilities, The Guardian newspaper reported. This investment follows the magnitude 7.9 Sichuan earthquake that killed about 70,000 people in China in 2008. “We will be able to send more teams to operations overseas and that’s one of the reasons we are expanding,” said Huang Jiafa, a division director at the Chinese Earthquake Administration. Currently, China is the country with the most urban search-and-rescue teams in the world, according to humanitarian news site ReliefWeb. China’s 50-member rescue team arrived in Haiti within the 72 “golden hours” — the most crucial time period for saving lives following natural disasters. The team immediately began working upon arrival in Port-au-Prince’s Carrefour neighborhood, one of the hardest-hit areas, according to the China Earthquake Administration, or CEA. They retrieved more than 20 bodies. At the ruins of the headquarters of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the Chinese team recovered the bodies of seven staff members, including mission chief Hedi Annabi and his chief deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa. They also dug up eight of their own peacekeeping officers assigned to the mission before the earthquake. Despite having sophisticated equipment, rescuers had to handle most of the excavation at the U.N. building by hand because its position halfway up a hill limited the use of machines, an official at the CEA told the Xinhua news agency. China’s other contributions included a 40-member medical team and an improvised mobile hospital, where about 2,500 injured people were treated, Jiafa said. More than 60 international urban search-and-rescue teams rushed to Haiti after it was pummeled by the earthquake on January 12, 2010. Elite international rescuers, security and medical personnel arrived first in the demolished capital Port-au-Prince, working under extreme conditions to find survivors, according to the United Nations. Veteran urban search-and-rescue teams from Mexico, China, France, Israel, Qatar and South Africa embodied the world’s urgent call-to-action to assist the people of Haiti. Mexico’s ‘Moles’ prove courageous After a magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck Mexico City in 1985, one of the world’s most respected search-and-rescue teams – the International Rescue Brigade of Tlatelolco-Azteca – emerged from the ruins. Los Topos, or “The Moles,” was formed in the absence of a professional rapid-response team as frantic residents of the Tlatelolco community banded together to rescue their families and neighbors. Almost 25 years later, Los Topos has three delegations in Mexico: in Tlatelolco, Cancun and Vera Cruz. It also has a delegation in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a volunteer Los Topos rescuer, Fernando Alvaro Bravo, told Diálogo. The volunteers are trained by experts from Israel and France and have deployed to disaster sites around the world, including New York City; San Salvador, El Salvador; Taiwan; Bam, Iran; and Abruzzi, Italy. Equipped with mallets and knives as their primary tools, they set out to join earthquake rescue missions using their own money or through private donations. “We are going to offer our best on behalf of the Mexican people,” Héctor Méndez, one of the founders of Los Topos, told the Agence France-Presse news agency. In January, a 25-member contingent equipped with sniffer dogs, first-aid responders and a demolition crew arrived in Haiti within 48 hours. Another veteran rescuer and group leader, Carlos Morales, worked alongside his 24-year old daughter, as a show of family courage in the face of strangers’ despair. In the two weeks following the earthquake, Los Topos rescued more than a dozen victims, including Ena Zizi, a 69-year-old Haitian woman trapped beneath the ruins of a church for seven days. Six and a half weeks after Haiti’s quake, Los Topos rushed to the rescue again after a magnitude 8.8 earthquake and subsequent tsunami ravaged Chile. By Dialogo April 01, 2010 French team makes a miracle rescue France demonstrated its solidarity with Haiti by immediately deploying three military planes carrying 100 firefighters and gendarmes, in addition to humanitarian aid. The urban search-and-rescue teams from France worked incessantly to find survivors even after the Haitian government called off the search, stating there was little hope of finding anyone alive 11 days after the capital was reduced to rubble. The rescuers stubbornly pressed on in favor of holding out for one last miracle rescue. Amazingly, 15 days after the quake, rescuer Claude Fuilla walked along the unstable roof of a collapsed home, heard the faint voice of 17-year-old Darlene Etienne and spotted her dust-covered black hair in the rubble. The dying teenager was rescued within 45 minutes, The Associated Press reported. “I don’t think she could have survived even a few more hours,” Fuilla said. Etienne’s rescue defied the odds of finding anyone alive after so long. Authorities say it is rare for anyone to survive more than 72 hours without water, let alone more than two weeks, but she reportedly had access to water from a bathroom. Israeli field hospital saves thousands Battlefield experience has made the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, National Search and Rescue Unit an international elite team. Since its inception in 1983, the unit has worked in disaster zones in Mexico, Argentina, Armenia, Kenya, Turkey and elsewhere. A 220-member IDF medical and rescue team arrived in Haiti within 36 hours after the earthquake. It began its operations near the ruins of the U.N. headquarters in Port-au-Prince and worked with local authorities to find survivors in other disaster-stricken areas. The team also built a field hospital with operating rooms and a maternity and children’s ward, within a record time of 10 hours. The medical team treated more than 1,100 patients, conducted 319 successful surgeries and delivered 16 babies, including three by Cesarean section according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The sights here are very difficult and you need a lot of mental fortitude,” said Gali Wiest, the delegation’s head nurse, as reported in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. “We’ve already taken in 87 children, most in moderate to serious condition; there have been a few operations and amputations, and they keep coming.” Wiest spoke of the survival of an infant boy who was trapped under the rubble for five days and lay in a state of shock in the children’s ward: “His parents aren’t here — perhaps they are dead — but the Israeli nurses caress him and give him a warm bottle of milk.” The IDF team concluded its two-week stay on January 27, 2010, and patients needing further care, as well as orphans and premature babies, were transferred to other field hospitals and to the U.S. Navy Ship Comfort. Emirate assistance beyond Arab world Qatar’s Internal Security Force, which provided emergency relief after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Mauritania floods in 2007, also provided support to Haiti. It was the first time the Gulf emirate deployed an urban search-and-rescue team outside the Arab world, The National newspaper reported. “This is a long way for us to come and the first time we have left our region,” Capt. Mubarak al-Kaabi, the team’s leader, told The National. “But help means helping everybody, not just Arabic people.” A 26-person rescue team of soldiers, police and medical professionals scoured the Haitian capital for survivors. The team also set up a makeshift field hospital on the outskirts of the city, in Cité Soleil, where doctors treated more than 500 victims. They performed rudimentary operations, set broken limbs and cleaned festering wounds. “We’re putting limbs in splints and giving out antibiotics, but some of the infections are very bad and need to be treated many times,” Mootaz Ali, an orthopedic surgeon, told The National. “Some patients are not even able to take the antibiotics we give them because they don’t have access to water.” South African efforts undeterred A 10-member team from the South African Gift of the Givers Foundation, the largest African disaster relief organization, arrived in Haiti three days after the earthquake. They worked an area that no team had yet reached, Xinhua reported. “The devastation was mind boggling, with no sign of life, only a litter of corpses and the sick stench of decomposed bodies along the way,” foundation chairman Imtiaz Sooliman said. “The first stop was a Catholic mission, totally destroyed; five bodies were recovered. At another site nine more bodies were recovered,” Sooliman said. The rescuers, skilled in disaster response, search and rescue, and advanced life support, traveled by land from the Dominican Republic, and were later escorted by U.N. helicopters when road access was blocked. They extricated five survivors from a collapsed hospital in Port-au-Prince. “After 2.5 hours of intense activity, team leader Ahmed Bham, together with our Mexican partners, rescued a 60-year-old lady, she being the first of five survivors,” the organization said in a statement. The team also cleared the hospital of 600 bodies so it could resume operations.