Rescue operation gets into gear as world reacts

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A vast international aid effort for Mozambique, including the dispatch of 500 US soldiers to provide logistical support, was finally under way yesterday as emergency workers warned time was running out for up to 10,000 stranded people.

A vast international aid effort for Mozambique, including the dispatch of 500 US soldiers to provide logistical support, was finally under way yesterday as emergency workers warned time was running out for up to 10,000 stranded people.

By late yesterday, aid agencies, governments and private donors had 37 aircraft in the country or on their way for search, rescue and relief missions, almost double the number just 24 hours earlier.

The first British military aid is expected in Maputo today, in the form of a transport plane carrying rafts and other equipment. This follows yesterday's promise from the Government's to step up support and increase its donation to £5.8m. A decision on whether to send British troops is waiting for an assessment of the situation by eight military advisors who arrive in Maputo today.

A British air transporter carrying four Puma helicopters with fire crews and rescue teams is also on its way, as well as 69 motorised lifeboats and 40 life-rafts. Land Rovers with satellite communications equipment are also being provided. In Washington, the Pentagon said it would send 500 marines, six C-130 transport planes and six helicopters to ferry aid and supplies.

Michele Quintaglie, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme, said: "If anyone can meet the needs it is the Americans, because they have such a tremendous logistical capacity. We've seen it before."

Leading charities went direct to the British public yesterday with a massive appeal for help. Eleven aid agencies joined forces under the umbrella of the Disasters Emergencies Committee. They include Oxfam, Action Aid, Cafod, Christian Aid, Concern, Save the Children and the British Red Cross.

"We are engaged in a terrible race against time. It cannot be allowed to end in the survival of the fittest," said Lola Gostellow of Save The Children.

The charities said that a £100-donation would supply basic survival kits or emergency shelter for 10 families.

With nearly a million displaced, tens of thousands waiting to be rescued from Mozambique's rising waters, and another cyclone on its way, the recriminations about the speed of the response continue. Although Britain is paying for the charter of a small number of South African helicopters already working, the RAF helicopters will not be ready until Saturday at the earliest.

Mozambique's President, Joaquim Chissano, said yesterday that his country needed at least $250m, of which it has about 10 per cent, to recover.

Also yesterday, Portugal cancelled around half of its former colony's debt. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, called for more help: "I hope once the needs are further clarified the international community will respond and that those with the capacity to give will give, and give generously."

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