The United Nations is sending a team to North Korea to assess needs in the wake of the devastating train disaster.

North Korea's U.N. ambassador Pak Gil Yon formally appealed for help Friday to the world body's Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland. Mr. Egeland told VOA the ambassador had described a scene of absolute devastation at the site of the explosion.

"His request was to have emergency relief supplies available to the train blast immediately," he said. "He said that the devastation was big. He didn't have exact figures of how many casualties, but he said and confirmed that there are very many wounded and they don't have the capacity, at all, to respond by themselves."

Mr. Egeland said a U.N. assessment team was immediately dispatched to the scene to better determine what is needed.

"The team going, U.N. team, also with Red Cross and NGO officials, will bring with them supplies for a couple hundred thousand dollars that we have available in Pyongyang, and that will be the first installment of several rounds of assistance to the area from our side," he said.

Red Cross officials in Beijing say an international appeal for aid is being prepared. Spokesman John Sparrow says a few relief officials based in the area have visited the scene and report they have begun distributing limited supplies of some basic materials.

"Now those will be in the first place shelter. They will be tarpaulins, they will be blankets, they will be kitchen sets," he said. "Those things that people whose home has been destroyed need desperately right now. Those will be the first things there. At the same time we are putting together hospital kits and they will be shipped up there from Pyongyang as soon as possible."

U.N. Emergency Coordinator Jan Egeland says his experience during past visits to North Korea is that available facilities are unable to cope with the crisis.

"I've been myself visiting the medical facilities in North Korea and they are very, very substandard. They have very meager supplies, they have very few medicines, there is no advanced western medicine available, and in this case we fear there may be hundreds if not thousands of burn wounds and they always necessitate intensive medical care," he said.

Mr. Egeland said he expects representatives of the U.N. Children's Agency UNICEF, as well as from the World Health Organization and the World Food Program to be on the scene and operating by the end of the day Saturday.