British rescue teams arrive 'too late' to help in Sumatra

Official emergency teams did not reach devastated island until three days after the earthquake

A new system for organising Britain's official high-speed response to international emergencies failed to get a team of rescuers to help people trapped by the Indonesian earthquake until more than three days after the first tremors, it emerged yesterday.

A team of rescuers put together by the British Government to help was due on the island of Sumatra last night, three days after a huge quake brought down hundreds of buildings – and hours after British volunteers already on the ground claimed there was no one left to save.

A team of 65 UK firefighters – being paid at a rate of time and a half by the taxpayer – plus humanitarian experts was delayed by 24 hours and plunged into a desperate struggle to find a new aircraft after their original plane developed a technical fault on Friday. The official team, put together by the Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) and the Department for International Development (DfID), eventually left from RAF Brize Norton after they were allocated a C17 military transport aircraft. The team was due to arrive late last night, but there were reports they would be told they would not be needed.

But expert rescue teams from at least two British volunteer organisations – warning that speed is of the essence in earthquake rescue work, and having set out 18 hours earlier – had already been in the disaster zone for almost two days, having had to travel there independently of the Government. The organisations claimed they had been "cold-shouldered" by the British authorities under a new system which gave fire chiefs responsibility for organising the UK's official response to overseas emergencies.

Earlier this year, The Independent on Sunday revealed that Britain's volunteer lifesavers feared the secret deal could jeopardise the lives of thousands of people in disaster zones around the world. Critics yesterday claimed the confusion over the Sumatran rescue mission reinforced complaints about the long-term impact of the new arrangements. One veteran of many earthquakes said: "This was a textbook version of how not to do earthquake rescue." Others were more diplomatic. "We had been told to expect a call from DfID to find out how we could help the official rescue effort," said Julie Ryan of the International Rescue Corps, which has experience of helping in disaster zones around the world. "We didn't hear anything from them, so we made our own arrangements. It's quite sad that they didn't try to get us involved."

Graham Payne of Rapid-UK, which sent a rescue team to Padang on Friday, said his organisation had not been asked to be part of the official UK effort.

"They haven't phoned up and we have done it independently," Mr Payne said. "I think we have been cold-shouldered."

John Holland, who headed the Rapid-UK team in Padang, said yesterday that there were enough rescue workers in the disaster zone, and he believed there were no more survivors to be pulled from the hundreds of collapsed buildings in the area. "We are trying to discourage more teams from coming in as they are clogging up the airport, preventing longer-term relief from coming in," said Mr Holland. "It is at this stage that we, as rescue specialists, tend to move out to allow the recovery stage and the longer-term work to take place. What is needed now is to get aid in, not more rescue teams."

The International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, said earlier this year that the changes to the rescue set-up aimed to establish "a more efficient and workable arrangement" for providing help in overseas emergencies. He said the decision to go above the charities' heads was taken as "they were finding it difficult to co-operate and reach agreement" – a claim the groups furiously denied.

A DfID spokesman yesterday said that the emergency response system was revamped last year in order to "draw on the expertise of the Fire and Rescue Service and the voluntary sector quickly and effectively during humanitarian crises".

He added: "It was decided that the UK Fire and Rescue Service should take responsibility for organising the Government's overseas search-and-rescue responsibilities following extensive discussions between the department and voluntary organisations.

"Under the arrangement, the Fire and Rescue Service can work directly with voluntary groups and has the option of asking them to deploy support for operations if required."

The shadow International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, said: "Our sole concern at the moment must be to get help to the people who need it. But when the dust has settled, we must look again at the UK's procedures for co-ordinating and managing disaster responses to ensure that the energy and resources of leading disaster response NGOs are backed up by effective co-ordination and direction from Whitehall."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform