SA team's Haiti breakthrough

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pretoria - The South African rescue team discovered 25 bodies within the first two hours of operation in quake hit Haiti, said the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.

The team yesterday joined several other rescue teams from around the world who have also been struggling to get permission to land at the country's airport that has been overwhelmed since the quake struck on Tuesday.

"The team arrived safely at 3:00am on Sunday South African time," Department of International Relations ad Cooperation spokesperson Saul Molobi told BuaNews.

The South African team consisted of 40 people, mainly medical staff and engineers. The team arrived with 10 tons of search and rescue equipment as well as medical supplies.

Haiti authorities estimate that around 200 000 people had died and that more than 90 percent of the nation's buildings are damaged.

"The team is now working under the supervision of the UN ...we are waiting for news from them and from there we can decide on the second stage of our plans."

Molobi said this would likely be food and medicine aid.

A second team organised by the Gift of the Givers has also arrived in Haiti. Founder Imtiaz Sooliman, said, their team, which includes professionals skilled in disaster response, urban rescue and advanced life support, travelled by land from the Dominican Republic.

"It is carrying emergency medicines and R2.5 million worth of heavy equipment to locate survivors in the rubble," he said, adding that two more teams will leave for Haiti this week.

The first will leave tonight while on Wednesday a 20-member medical team will follow.

The latter will include skilled trauma medical specialists including orthopaedic, facial surgeons, anaesthetists and advanced life-support paramedics, he said.

Sooliman said the organisation had been negotiating with the government to fund a cargo plane to transport hundreds of tons of emergency supplies.

The plane is expected to leave towards the end of the week, when the airport has been reopened. Supplies include medicines, tents, blankets, water, food and water tablets.

The Gift of the Givers mission was supported by the Presidency, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation and the Department of Health. Support had also been received from the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference and the Anglican Church.

Meanwhile, on Sunday United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Haiti.

Ban came to see first hand the effects of the catastrophe, to show solidarity to Haiti's citizens and to the UN's workers, as well as to help boost the speed of aid distribution in the nation.

"I am here with a message of hope, that aid is already on the way," said Ban.