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British SAR dogs sent to help in earthquake disaster zone

SEVERAL BRITISH Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs have been deployed along with specialist rescue teams to help in the search for survivors of the Asian earthquake.

The earthquake hit Pakistan, north India and Afghanistan at 0350 GMT last Saturday. The Pakistan government has said it fears that more than 28,000 people may have died.

Specialist firefighters from the West Midlands, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire arrived to help in areas hit by the Kashmir earthquake.

Teams from the International Rescue Corps and the UK Fire Service Search and Rescue Team (UKFSSART) flew out from Nottingham East Midlands Airport. The team is made up of firefighters and other specialist rescue personnel from the emergency services, including SAR dogs and their handlers.

The Lincolnshire crew were the first international team on scene. They were deployed to Muzzaffarabad in Kashmir by helicopter.

Along with the Lancashire team, they will be used in the next phase for light search and rescue. Colleagues from West Midlands and Grampian teams followed with heavy rescue gear.

The team is on call 24 hours a day to respond to disasters anywhere in the world. It is made up of on-duty teams with a doctor and trauma nurse, a SAR team from Lincolnshire and a small command support team from West Midlands Fire Service.

Crews around the country take it in turns to be on the rota and ready to respond within four hours - currently Grampian, Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire and Lancashire.

They were joined by Kent, Essex and Leicestershire personnel. Team members are all inoculated in readiness to be sent anywhere in the world.

Neil Fritzsche, from Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, said that in the Indian earthquake five years ago, visa and quarantine delays meant crews could not be mobilised for 16 hours. However, they have made sure that does not happen again.

He said: "Quarantine regulations are bypassed going out there, but on the way coming back the dogs will be in quarantine for six months.

"It is a problem for the team - it is a problem for the UK resilience as far as search and rescue dogs (are concerned) because if they are required in this country, should any disaster occur, then the dogs will be in quarantine."

He explained their role in disaster areas: "It will be rescue work - using the dogs to identify where people may still be alive and trapped and then using technical equipment and expertise."

Meanwhile, another British search and rescue team pulled three people from the flattened wreck of an apartment block on Monday, just hours after arriving in Islamabad to join the desperate hunt for survivors.

On Saturday morning the Margala Towers became the only significant structure in Islamabad to succumb to the rippling shock waves of the massive earthquake.

Eleven storeys containing 25 flats were reduced to a heap of concrete, steel and the broken remnants of their occupants' possessions. There were dozens of bodies and trapped survivors.

Relatives of those believed lost inside pressed around the site last night in a crowd that swelled to thousands as rescuers fought to find those who survived the building's collapse.

Pakistani army engineers and international rescue teams, including Rescue and Preparedness in Disasters (Rapid) and Canis sniffer dog teams from Britain, said that the structure had collapsed with large numbers of voids and cavities in its interior.

The Rapid team, based in Quedgeley, Gloucester, arrived at the site 24 hours after the quake. Within a few hours it managed to find three, two men and a woman, who were pulled free with serious injuries.

"We were calling to one person we heard in the wreckage and another responded as well," said Graham Payne, 60, from the team.

Two dogs, a Collie named Madge and a Labrador named Rocky, criss-crossed the rubble with their handlers. "They detect living people from exhaled breath," said Gareth Ross, 31.

They located a third man, yet to be rescued, and the British team was also able to speak to a fourth man who managed to call the authorities on his mobile phone.

The team, under the supervision of the Department for International Development, runs on shoestring of private donations and fund-raising. It is permanently on standby and was deployed most recently in the Bam earthquake in Iran in 2003.

"The co-operation with the local Pakistani authorities has been excellent," said Mr Payne. "We have the architect's maps of the structure and we have already found evidence of a lot of voids."