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South African Group Ready to Aid Chile Quake Victims

A humanitarian group in South Africa says it is poised to send rescue workers to Chile, following its massive earthquake. But the group is also urging donors not to forget earthquake victims in Haiti who remain highly vulnerable after a similar disaster seven weeks ago.

The head of the Gift of the Givers organization, Imtiaz Sooliman, says that if requested his group could immediately send to Chile 30 search-and-rescue specialists, sniffer dogs and 10 experts in treating traumatic injuries.

"There is no request for international search and rescue and medical teams. However, if they [the Chileans] do change their mind we are still on stand-by and we are ready to move in on short notice with medical supplies to accompany the search-and-rescue teams," said Sooliman.

The earthquake and tsunami Saturday in Chile killed at least 800 people and damaged two-million buildings, including 500,000 homes.

The Chilean government has asked the international community for certain forms of aid, but says it can handle search-and-rescue efforts.

Sooliman spoke (to VOA) shortly before flying to Haiti where his organization has been helping victims of the earthquake there that killed an estimated 300,000 people and destroyed much of the country's infrastructure.

Gift of the Givers initially flew three search-and-rescue teams to Haiti.

It has since replaced them with medical personnel who are working at make-shift hospitals. Sooliman called Haiti's one of the worst natural disasters ever and urged the donor community to increase its aid.

"With the Chilean earthquake and other responsibilities around the world, the world should not forget that the people in Haiti are in great distress," he said. "Even the tents and all that everybody has supplied will not be adequate with the coming rains and the coming winds," said Sooliman.

He said more aid was needed to build shelters for the homeless and schools for the children.

On this trip to Haiti, Sooliman says he took 500 tons of medical supplies and is accompanied by the archbishop of South Africa's Anglican Church and other religious leaders who are supporting the relief efforts.