The following report comes from Willie McMartin, the IRC Team Leader in Algeria, May 2003.
The International Rescue Corps were invited to become part of a DFID (Department For International Development) sponsored team, attending the earthquake in Algeria, which had occurred on 21st May 2003 at approx 1900hrs.
The initial reports indicated that a magnitude 6.7 quake had struck an area approximately 75 kilometres from the capital city of Algiers. The death toll, originally reported as 50, had rapidly climbed to 200 and was becoming higher with every report.
Based on the information available and after discussions with DFID it was agreed that IRC would become part of the UK response to this event. IRC would send a team numbering 23, which would form a section of an overall response of 94.
Thursday 22nd May 2003
It was decided to mobilise the team and assemble at Stanstead Airport. Take off finally happened at 0015hrs after boarding at 2340hrs.
Friday 23rd May 2003
Landed at 0230hrs and all looks as though it may be a rapid transfer. The visas were issued and that part went well.
Transport to the disaster site was not available until 1005hrs.
This time was used to establish and purify a bulk supply of water for all the members of the UK contingent.
To speed up the process of deployment, only the rescue sections and their specialised kit were taken on the initial transport.
Two members would ensure the support kit followed as soon as practical.
1055hrs: Initial liaison is at the Civil Defence Station in BOUMERDES.
The team is shown a map of the area involved in the disaster. The epicentre is located near to the town of THENIA, approx 30 kilometres from Boumerdes.
1110hrs: a small reconnaissance team from all groups is to be sent to the nearby town of BOUDOUAOU. It is hoped that they will be able to identify good sites for all to work. As they travel out of town, it is noted that the damage is typically straight line with individual building damage rather than area involvement. Many of the buildings down are new or under construction.
After meeting the Colonel in charge of the local detachment of the Civil Defence, he escorts us on a tour of the town. ALL sites shown have been cleared or have teams working on them. He takes DFID and IRC representatives to a site where only the local population and a few of his team are working feverishly.
For the first time we note the faces of the relatives. THEY HAVE HOPE. A 14 year old and an 8 year old have been pulled alive from this site in the last 24hrs. They are digging by hand looking for a 2 year old child.
We agree that the team could and should be deployed to help.
As this reconnaissance is being carried out, the main section of the team and the support equipment are moved to the local sports stadium to establish a base camp. Ray Gray is also active as Coordinator establishing links with the UN OSOCC (United Nations – On Site Office for Control and Coordination), who will become responsible for the tasking of the oncoming teams.
Due to this relocation, communications had to be closed down for a period. The reconnaissance team, being unable at this time to establish a link back to base, decide to return and move part of the team and its equipment to the working site.
During this time period, the local people are able to rescue the 2 year old. She is alive and is taken away for treatment.
A combined team with IRC and CANIS search dogs returned to the area and, after some time, were able to close the site with no further positive locations. 3 further locations were also searched and closed before return to base camp for the evening. Due to transport and security issues no night work would be undertaken. Ray Gray had attended a second meeting at the OSOCC and returned with the following information:
Between 800 and 1000 overseas rescue workers were now within this location. Many teams were reporting that the sites they are visiting have been previously searched. The general consensus of opinion between teams is that 24 – 48 hrs work remains for rescue teams. The final decision on timescale will be a DFID matter. The UN have set the area as a level 3 risk. A team is to be available at 0600hrs tomorrow.
Saturday 24th May 2003
The team is ready to go by 0630hrs – but no transport. This arrives and the team depart at 0730hrs heading to THENIA. IRC have 20 members out with John Anderson in charge of the team. Ray Gray is going to the normal coordination meeting, Willie McMartin is dealing with press items and Glen Lloyd is in charge of base camp.
Thenia is approximately 30 kilometres south of base. They return after some time and report that the French team is dealing with some collapsed structures and have stated that they do not require help. They travel to SOMUR and also find that all sites have been cleared or are being searched by overseas teams.
Further teams from Austria and Japan have also arrived in the area.
Day-time temperatures are around 42C in the shade.
By mid afternoon Ray Gray returns from the UN meeting and reports that it is the intention of the authorities to close the search and rescue phase of this mission later today. A further meeting will take place at 2000hrs and then the OSOCC will close down. Travel arrangements to withdraw the team will be handled by DFID. An official request to keep a rapid deployment team available to respond to aftershock or other incident was placed. This team will be available until boarding the aircraft.
Sunday 25th May 2003
The team was ready to move from the sports ground (base camp) by 0830hrs. The whole area was a hive of activity with many teams striking camp to leave and some teams still arriving. Some items of equipment, most notably our electric water purifier, were donated to other organisations that would stay in the area.
The first truck arrived at 1210hrs but 2 would be required to move the whole UK contingent to the airport. 2 buses would also be required and it was doubtful that we would get them all. A second truck arrived and all the kit was loaded. The weather started to turn with a sudden drop in the temperature and the rain started.
1420hrs: with insufficient buses it was decided simply that around 30 people would ride on the trucks to ensure we got to the airport and had the equipment put into store for the night. This decision was to prove to be a blessing, in that it gave many of the local people a chance to say goodbye and pass on their thanks. The journey to the airport was noisy, with literally hundreds of vehicles sounding their horns, waving and giving signs of thanks. For many in our team it was an emotional experience and made the trip very worthwhile.
On arrival at the airport we were informed that the kit would be kept at the Civil Defence Training School a few kilometres away. The team transported it to this location where Ray, Dave and Simon stayed with the kit. The remainder of the team were put up in the airport hotel for the night.
Monday 26th May 2003
0605hrs and the busses arrive to take us to the airport. We are there by 0620hrs and are ready to board when given clearance. Some of the team go to help those who stayed with the kit load it onto the aircraft. This is done due to a shortage of baggage staff and it ensures we should be ready to leave on time.
Boarded by 0745hrs, we take over an hour to sort out some last minute paperwork and then we are away.
By 1142hrs we have landed at Manchester where part of the UK contingent are dropped and the dogs are uplifted for quarantine. Then to Stanstead, arriving at 1344hrs. It takes some time to clear the kit and arrange for onward transport to stores.
Tuesday 27th May 2003
The last team members arrive home and the mission is closed by 0630hrs.
|Willie McMartin||Team Leader|
|Ray Gray||Team Coordinator|
|Glen Lloyd||Team Medic|
|James Livingstone||Camera Operator|
|Robert Barrie||Section Leader|
|Anne Marie Macdonald||Section Leader|
|David Egan||Section Leader|
|John Anderson||Section Leader|
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