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Swiss arrive home after rescuing Indian quake victims

The Swiss rescue team headed home after saving eight people

(Keystone)

Switzerland's rescue team has returned home after rescuing eight people from the rubble of the earthquake that hit the Indian state of Gujarat on Friday. The team said there was no more chance of finding anyone alive in the debris.

The 52 members of the Swiss Rescue Chain and their nine sniffer dogs abandoned their search after pulling out eight people alive from ruined buildings in the cities of Ahmedabad and Bhuj.

The last person to be rescued, a 55 year-old woman, was found late Tuesday after spending 114 hours trapped in the debris. But the Swiss team's spokeswoman, Michèle Mercier, said there was now no more hope for anyone trapped in the rubble.

"From our experience, our people know that after five days, it would be a miracle to find anyone alive," she told swissinfo from India.

The earthquake, which registered 7.9 on the Richter scale, is estimated to have killed between 20,000 to 50,000 people according to the authorities.

The Swiss Rescue Chain, which arrived in the affected region on Saturday, believes its work was successful given the scale of the disaster. Mercier said the local authorities and population offered valuable support.

"They were very understanding," she said. "The dogs were very well accepted and we received many messages of encouragement from the population."

The worst affected area has been the city of Bhuj and its surroundings, although many villages and towns have not yet been surveyed.

The private organisation, Swissaid, said initial estimates showed there was hardly a house left standing in rural areas.

It said there had been more than 80 per cent destruction in 14 out of 17 villages visited by its local partners. Only two villages had no casualties to report, while the number of dead in the others ranged from two to 2,500.

Mercier and Swissaid say the priority now is emergency aid for the survivors.

"There has not yet been a full assessment of humanitarian needs," said Mercier. "But you can say that in terms of basic necessities, including medical care, everything is needed in the Bhuj area."

At least two members of the Swiss Rescue Chain are staying behind to start assessing the needs and how Switzerland can help.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says about 500,000 people are now homeless in Gujarat.

by Scott Capper


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