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More Aid Sought for N. Korea Explosion Victims - 2004-04-26

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says aid workers have covered the immediate emergency needs of thousands of people caught last week in the massive explosion that devastated the North Korean town of Ryongchon.

A spokeswoman for the International Red Cross, Marie-Francoise Borel, tells VOA about 400 workers from the North Korean Red Cross got to Ryongchon very quickly.

She says they administered first aid, transported the injured to hospitals, and were able to distribute emergency relief supplies from a warehouse five kilometers from the devastated area.

After the blast, she says thousands of sets of kitchen equipment, blankets, water containers, tarpaulins, water purification tablets, and first-aid kits were rapidly distributed.

"The essential immediate needs are covered. As far as we know, everything is O.K.," she said. "But, obviously, we have to plan right away and start distributing further medical supplies and further food and further articles, just to make sure that their medium- and longer-term needs are met and that there is no gap, if you like, in the distribution of these goods."

Ms. Borel says stocks of relief supplies are depleted and need to be replenished.

Saturday, officials from the Red Cross and several U.N. agencies went to Ryongchon to assess the needs. The officials describe a scene of utter devastation. They say the train station, where the accident occurred, was completely blown away. More than 1,800 homes and buildings were destroyed.

The Red Cross is launching a preliminary appeal for $1.25 million to provide humanitarian assistance to 10,000 people during the next 12 months.

Ms. Borel says the most urgent needs are food, basic hygiene materials, kitchen equipment, clothing, and fuel for cooking. She says people will need help for a long time.

"It was such a massive explosion that obviously the impact is extremely severe and we think that the impact of that explosion is going to be felt for months, in some cases years, to come for those, for example, who have been severely injured," she said. "Many people have lost their homes, they have lost their belongings. They lost everything they had. So, this is extremely traumatic in the life of someone. So in some cases, the help will need to go on for a long time especially since some of these families were already struggling anyway to survive."

Ms. Borel says the thousands of homeless are living in public places, such as schools, or with host families. But, she says they cannot stay there for long and will have to be provided with shelter of their own. Another priority, she says, is to re-supply the over-stretched health care system with antibiotics, essential drugs, and anesthetics.