Singapore teams begin search and rescue ops

SCDF rescuers and SAF medical team helping quake victims

Rescuers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will begin search and rescue operations today in Lalitpur district, just south of Nepal's capital Kathmandu.

An SCDF team that travelled to the Gorkha region yesterday will also be conducting such operations, and coordinate efforts with their Belgian and Spanish counterparts.

Meanwhile, a medical team from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is helping earthquake victims in the village of Gokarna, after an area that was earlier assigned by the Nepal authorities was found to be covered by teams from three other countries.

At a 50 sq km area in Lalitpur, the 22-strong SCDF team is bringing its full array of search and rescue tools to the operation, including sniffer dogs to locate signs of life.

The team has also asked for an excavator, said SCDF deputy contingent commander, Captain Foo Ying Kai. "Many of the buildings do not have steel rebars (reinforcing bars), so when they collapse they will pancake," he said. "Most of the collapsed buildings are also very brittle, so there is some risk involved."

At the Gorkha region, which is near the epicentre of last Saturday's earthquake, the 20-man SCDF team is being assisted by four members of the Singapore Police Force.

Besides roads damaged by the quake, the team also faces communication challenges due to network outages.

With the 96-hour window where search and rescue efforts are most effective now closed, rescuers are now also looking at extracting dead bodies as well.

"Part of our mission is not just search and rescue of lives, but if we are able to rescue any bodies, we will still do it," said Lieutenant-Colonel Alvin Tan, commander of the SCDF contingent.

"This will at least give the families some closure."

The SAF team, which was initially assigned to relief efforts in the village of Sankhu, found out during reconnaissance that the sector was already being helped by three separate teams: one each from Malaysia, India and China.

"This is something that is very common in a disaster like this, when information is not commonly shared," said overall mission commander, Colonel Lim Kwang Tang.

Gokarna village, where the SAF's medical team is helping local doctors, has a population of about 20,000.

Local doctors have also asked for help and medical supplies for injuries like fractures and broken bones, said Col Lim.

yanliang@sph.com.sg