Hopes fade as earthquake rescue teams pull out

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The Independent Online

Hopes faded last night of finding more survivors from the earthquake in Bam and the United Nations said the search could be wound up today.

With the death toll from Friday's earthquake standing at more than 20,000, a Swiss rescue team pulled out yesterday after spending two days picking through the rubble of the mud-brick city in south-eastern Iran without finding a single survivor.

It is rare for people buried alive in earthquakes to survive for more than three days. In Iran's desert region, the night-time temperatures plunge below freezing.

"The city was 90 per cent destroyed, and the people were crushed, suffocated or frozen in the rubble," said Roland Schlachter, the head of the Swiss relief operation.

Teams from 16 countries are taking part in humanitarian missions. The UN said yesterday that no more and search-and-rescue operatives were necessary. But there remained an urgent need for supplies, especially shelter, medicine, mobile hospitals and water purification equipment.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross launched a preliminary appeal for $12m (£7m).

Emergency workers from Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey were the first to arrive after the Iranian government opened airspace to aid flights and waived visa requirements.

A team of 60 from Rapid-UK was one of the earliest in action, accompanied by doctors, paramedics and firefighters.The British experts were concentrating on multi-storey buildings. Rapid-UK's director, Graham Payne, said: "The weather is not bad, so if anyone is found trapped, there is a good chance we will get them out. If there are voids, that is what we will be going for, but if a building has pancaked then there is nowhere to survive."

Spain promised $24.8m in overall aid and sent a water purification plant and a field hospital. France was dispatching two military planes with 60 medical personnel and 20 tons of equipment to build a field hospital. The Kenyan and Sri Lankan governments said they would send supplies for survivors.

The office of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said the Emergencies Ministry, which deals with disasters, would also be sending a team.

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