Rescue teams pack up as hopes of finding survivors dim

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International rescue teams packed to leave the devastated town of Bhuj today with no more reports of people pulled alive from the rubble six days after an earthquake ravaged India's western Gujarat state.

International rescue teams packed to leave the devastated town of Bhuj today with no more reports of people pulled alive from the rubble six days after an earthquake ravaged India's western Gujarat state.

The 67-member British search and rescue squad have left Bhuj, as have Turkish and Japanese crews who arrived in the wake of the 7.7-magnitude quake that struck January 26.

Spanish rescuer Fidel Suarez Flores arrived on Wednesday with a team of 14 men and several sniffer dogs, and planned to stay awhile. "You can't lose hope," he said. "There's always a chance after 10 days you can still find someone." A French team with sniffer dogs also arrived Wednesday.

Officials with the British contingent say it is time shift from rescue operations to concentrating on bringing relief to survivors. Rescuers are exhausted after days of tunneling into rubble in the hope of finding living victims - and, more often, uncovering only bodies.

At least five people were rescued from under collapsed buildings in three towns on Wednesday, but there were no such reports today.

Rescue workers concede there are still likely to be a few people trapped alive, but say they have exhausted their resources.

"It's not an easy decision," said James Brown, the British search and rescue coordinator in Bhuj. "When the team get home they'll see pictures on TV of people being brought out alive. The guys have big hearts, they'd carry on forever, but the body can only take so much.

For the longer term relief effort, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance sent a team of seven people to Bhuj today. They came with three planes carrying four water treatment tankers, each one enough for a village. There were also four truckloads of tarpaulins and blankets. The U.S. team plans to be on the ground for up to three weeks, said its leader, William S. Berger.

The British rapid-response rescue team left England on a Royal Air Force plane on Friday night and was at work 15 minutes after arriving in Bhuj on Sunday morning. Since then, British rescuers and British-funded Russian teams have dug out 23 people alive.

Efforts to coordinate the work of the international teams, however, have been beset by disorganisation. In the chaotic days after the disaster, rescue efforts were hampered by a lack of vehicles, translators and communications equipment.

"Over the last few days our camp has been up and running really well," said Mike Thomas, team leader for the British effort. "But we still didn't know where the Germans were. We'd like to have seen relief rescue teams coming in."

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