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Gurkhas to join quake relief effort

Published 27/04/2015

Volunteers from British charity Search and Rescue Assistance in Disasters (SARAID) check their equipment at Heathrow airport
Volunteers from British charity Search and Rescue Assistance in Disasters (SARAID) check their equipment at Heathrow airport

Britain is sending a team of Gurkha engineers to Nepal to help the disaster relief effort after the earthquake at the weekend left more than 4,000 dead and thousands of others injured.

The Gurkhas will join humanitarian volunteers and emergency service crews from the UK who have already begun search and rescue operations in stricken Himalayan state.

They are flying out in an RAF C-17 transport aircraft packed with vital emergency supplies including more than 1,100 shelter kits and more than 1,700 solar lanterns.

International Development Secretary, Justine Greening said the Government would also match the first £5 million made in public donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Earthquake Appeal.

"A swift and effective UK response to the Nepal earthquake means help is already reaching all those affected by this terrible disaster. But as the devastating scale of the crisis becomes clearer, we are stepping up our efforts," she said.

The announcement came as communication problems in the worst-affected areas meant families and friends around the world were still anxiously waiting for news of their loved one, with dozens of British and Irish people among those missing.

Aid workers on the ground have reported "huge logistical difficulties" as road closures and communication problems have thwarted some efforts.

Leigh Daynes, UK director of medical charity Doctors of the World, said Nepal's health system was already vulnerable even before the earthquake, especially in rural areas.

"Now hospitals are utterly incapacitated, infrastructure has been decimated and thousands of people are sleeping on the streets. With monsoon season only weeks away, this is a catastrophe of the highest order and demands an urgent medical response," he said.

"We are facing huge logistical difficulties. As well as roads being closed, aftershocks have prevented planes from landing at Kathmandu airport."

The 7.8-magnitude quake struck just before midday on Saturday, sending tremors through the Kathmandu Valley and the nearby city of Pokhara.

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said that while many newer buildings in the Kathmandu valley had survived, older ones had not been able to withstand the force of the shock.

"As the death toll continues to rise, it is our absolute priority to continue the search and rescue operations and get aid to those left stranded," he said.

Some 67 firefighters from the International Search and Rescue Team (UKISAR) are among those helping.

The team is able to provide specialised, technical search and rescue assistance in collapsed structures. This will include locating and rescuing people, canine support, medical teams, engineering, assessing the damage and stabilising scenes.

UK spokesman Roy Wilsher said: "We want to ensure we are doing everything we can to help. The team which has gone out are all highly trained professionals who will be offering as much assistance in the rescue endeavour on the ground as they possibly can."

Eight volunteers from Salisbury-based charity Serve On's international rescue team arrived in Nepal just before lunch today.

Tracy Milton from the charity said: "The team at the moment are liaising with the UN co-ordinators and are actually taking part in the first search at the moment.

"We don't know exactly where they are at the moment because of the limited information and haven't had any updates other than that they have arrived and started searching.

"They will be getting limited sleep and rest for the next few days, and they are just concentrating on searches where there is a good chance of getting people out alive."

The Foreign Office said it had not received reports of any Britons being killed or injured but embassy staff have assisted 200 people.

Tales of escape have begun to emerge from quake survivors, despite widespread disruption to communication lines in Nepal.

Climber Alex Staniforth, 19, from Chester, said he was "emotionally trashed" and "very lucky to be alive" after being evacuated to base camp.

The quake also set in motion an avalanche which swept the face of Everest, killing at least 17 people and injuring 61, government officials said.

Nicholas Roxburgh, a 26-year-old PhD student from Ormskirk, Lancashire, described running into the bathroom and finding an exit as soon as possible, before making his way to the street.

Mr Roxburgh, who lived in Nepal for nine months, said: "It was immediately clear there had been casualties.

"The lifeless bodies of two young children were carried in, while countless others arrived with a variety of horrific injuries - many having been hurt by falling masonry, others having been pulled from collapsed buildings."

In a message to Nepalese president Ram Baran Yadav, the Queen said today she was "shocked to hear of the appalling loss of life and injuries" caused by the earthquake in Nepal, adding that her "thoughts and prayers are with the victims".

Andrew Lee, disaster management expert and a lecturer with the University of Sheffield, said Nepal will be dependent on aid from countries such as the UK "for years" as it begins a slow recovery from the devastating earthquake that could last a decade.

"The search and rescue effort is only a very short-term issue for a few days. I would expect it will cost hundreds of millions of pounds to rebuild the city. At least a decade of development will be lost because of this disaster," he said.

:: Anyone who is caught up in the incident or worried about a family member should call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on +44 (0) 207 008 0000. To donate, call 0370 60 60 900 or visit the website dec.org.uk.

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