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South Africa Sends Search, Rescue Teams to Haiti


South Africa is sending a team of search and rescue specialists to Haiti in response to the devastating earthquake on Tuesday. It is the first of several teams being sent by a local civic group.

The head of South Africa's Gift of the Givers Foundation, Emtiaz Sooliman, says his group is sending up to three teams of search and rescue specialists to Haiti to help victims of the earthquake and hopefully save some lives.

"These are people who have worked with building collapses, urban search and rescue and some of them have been involved in responding to previous earthquakes so they are highly skilled," he said.

Sooliman says a second team is to depart as soon as he can book a flight for it. Flights to Haiti are difficult to obtain because of its damaged air control facilities and the large number of relief planes heading there.

Sooliman says the teams will also set up camps and see what medical facilities are available.

"Then we will send in specialized medical personnel, trauma specialists, orthopedic surgeons, trauma nurses, advanced life support paramedics, to work with other medical personnel on the ground or work on their own provided medical facilities are available," he said.

He notes that specialists in infectious diseases will also be needed because of the collapse of water and sewage systems in many areas.

Gift of the Givers is also lining up a charter plane to deliver more than 100 metric tons of supplies to the worst-hit areas. But Sooliman warns the international community must move fast or many lives will be needlessly lost.

"There are many men, women and children there who are completely at the mercy of the elements and must be sitting in pain with no food, no medical care, with broken bones. As a common humanity we need to move very fast to respond to the crisis of these people," he said.

Sooliman says his foundation is the largest disaster relief organization of African origin on the continent. With support from private donors and several governments in the region, it has worked in 25 countries including Somalia, Sudan, Mozambique, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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