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Elite US Search Team to Join Nepal Quake Rescue Efforts


Members of Germany's NGO organization International Search and Rescue (ISAR- Germany) prepare sniffer dog Apache to board their flight to Nepal from Frankfurt airport, April 26, 2015.

Dozens of U.S. rescuers and six search dogs are en route to Nepal, expected to arrive in the earthquake-stricken capital of Kathmandu Monday.

The elite team will join Nepalese and international efforts after a massive quake killed at least 2,400 people and reduced the city's largely wood and brick infrastructure to rubble Saturday.

It remains unclear how many victims are trapped beneath debris.

Randy Bittinger, a spokesman for the Fairfax, Virginia fire departments's International Urban Search and Rescue task force, said 56 team members are traveling from Dover Air Force Base in the east coast state of Delaware to Kathmandu Sunday.

The call to travel came shortly after the 7.8-magnitude quake was reported.

As in all deployments, the group is prepared for a two-week mission. Bittinger told VOA much of the work will be hands-on; the team will rely heavily on their dogs to find victims buried in the rubble.

"Looking at Kathmandu, they have many bricks, not so much reinforced concrete. It's more light entrapment - digging, (and) greater need in my opinion, for canines," said Bittinger, a task force veteran who participated in earthquake rescue efforts in Haiti, Iran and Japan.

Careful to emphasize the differences in each catastrophe - weather, infrastructure, topography, building materials - Bittinger likened the situation in mountainous Kathmandu to the 2014 landslide in Washington state, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The Fairfax team deployed then as well with their dogs to search for victims after a hillside collapsed, burying a town and killing scores of residents.

Bittinger said several members of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) disaster response team are flying to Nepal with the Fairfax task force.

"We never want to have to do this," he said, "but this is why we train extensively."