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Some foreign rescuers allowed to get in to China 4 days after quake

Posted by Author on May 16, 2008

DUJIANGYAN, China (AFP) — Foreign rescue teams arrived in China’s quake-devastated southwest on Friday, laden with specialist equipment to aid the desperate search among the rubble of shattered buildings.

A Japanese team began work in Sichuan province, the first time the Chinese government has accepted foreign professionals for a domestic disaster rescue and relief operation.

They were followed by rescue workers from Russia, Singapore and South Korea, state media said. Teams were also heading in from Hong Kong and from Taiwan, which China considers a territory awaiting reunification.

But experts warned that time was running out, as one British search and rescue team struggled to get permission to enter China.

A team of 31 Japanese rescuers, accompanied by sniffer dogs, arrived Friday in the town of Guanzhuang of Qingchuan county, an isolated area near the mountainous border with Gansu province where 700 people are believed buried.

“We want to do our best to rescue as many people as possible,” a member of the rescue team, wearing an orange and blue worksuit, told Japan’s TV Asahi network when they arrived in Sichuan.

The group’s first job was to try to rescue three people trapped under the debris of a six-storey hospital of traditional Chinese medicine that had collapsed, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Needless to say, time is running out. We want to speed up our efforts to save people’s lives with cooperation with the Chinese side,” a foreign ministry official said in Tokyo.

About 40 rescuers from South Korea’s National Emergency Management Agency arrived on Friday, along with two sniffer dogs and “state-of-the-art” search technology.

Their equipment includes digital endoscope cameras which can be inserted into building cracks to seek out any survivors, the agency said in a statement.

The Singapore team brought life detector systems and hydraulic cutters and spreaders, it said.

The decision to accept the rescuers signals an apparent shift by Beijing, which initially had politely rebuffed such offers despite clearly struggling to reach many devastated communities cut off by quake-damaged roads.

In previous disasters, such as the Tangshan earthquake of 1976 which killed more than 240,000 people, China even refused offers of aid from abroad, insisting the money was more needed elsewhere.

Despite the unprecedented access, 10 members of British-based International Rescue Corps were still in Hong Kong Friday trying to secure permission to enter the mainland.

“Realistically, we are now on day five and you have to ask how long people can survive,” the charity’s director Willie McMartin told AFP when asked if they would still enter China if they faced further delays.

McMartin said the 10-member team, which arrived in Hong Kong Wednesday night, had hoped to get a flight on Friday evening to Sichuan’s capital Chengdu, but they had been forced to abandon the plans as they were still awaiting permission.

He said British embassy officials in Beijing were helping to try to secure visas from Chinese authorities, and they would reassess on Saturday.

– Original report from AFP: Foreign rescuers at work in China quake area

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