World races to aid stricken survivors in disaster zone

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The Independent Online

Aid agencies, governments and individuals around the world were racingyesterday to get emergency assistance to Iran before it is too late. Rescue equipment, food, temporary shelters and water purification systems were all desperately needed.

Aid agencies, governments and individuals around the world were racingyesterday to get emergency assistance to Iran before it is too late. Rescue equipment, food, temporary shelters and water purification systems were all desperately needed.

Iran's President, Mohammad Khatami, admitted his country could not cope on its own with the scale of the disaster, and the Interior Minister, Abdolvahed Mussavi-Lari, said help would be welcome from everywhere except Israel. A lack of drinking water and near-freezing temperatures in Bam were the main concern. Many countries offered tents, blankets, tarpaulins, cooking sets and water-purification tablets to residents who lost their homes.

The Rapid-UK rescue team from Britain landed with 40 other British rescuers in Kerman, 125 miles from the epicentre. The government-funded jet, which left Stansted on Friday night, also carried 15 members of the International Rescue Corps (IRC) and 20 people from fire and rescue teams in Essex, Hampshire and Kent. Other passengers included doctors, paramedics, government officials and dogs from British International Rescue Dogs and Canis. Rapid-UK and IRC have provided support for some of the worst earthquakes in recent years, including Algeria in May last year, which killed 1,800, and Bhuj in north-west India, where 20,000 died.

The Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn, said: "We know from previous disasters that some people have remained trapped under buildings for some days ... That is why we were keen to get this rescue team out to Bam as quickly as possible."

The Government has so far given £150,000 to the Red Cross for tents, heating equipment and water purification equipment. Two representatives from the Department for International Development have also been sent out to assess what is needed. The British Red Cross will be working with the Iranian Red Crescent, which has set up two field hospitals with a medical team and 250 volunteers.

Meanwhile, governments and relief organisations mobilised around the globe, with rescue workers, search dogs and emergency relief supplies from Japan to California, from South Africa to South Korea, from Switzerland to Armenia.

France was dispatching two planes carrying 60 medical experts and 20 tons of equipment to construct a field hospital. Ireland, Norway and Australia each pledged more than $1m (£560,000), and the European Union has promised €2.3m (£1.6m).

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issued a preliminary appeal for $12.3m to bring relief assistance, while the United Nations said it was releasing an emergency grant of £50,000 and had sent experts to help assess the damage.

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