Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Israeli team spends Rosh Hashanah looking for Mexico quake survivors - Lilach Shoval, Shlomo Cesana, Eli Leon, Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff

by Lilach Shoval, Shlomo Cesana, Eli Leon, Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff 

IDF team of search and rescue experts, engineers, and medics is one of the largest international contingents in Mexico

An IDF search and rescue crew works to extract survivors 
from the rubble  Photo: Reuters  

As international contingents of search and rescue personnel labored to find and extricate survivors of the major earthquake that hit Mexico City last week, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck southeast of the town of Matías Romero in Oaxaca on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The region had already been hard-hit by a quake on Sept. 7. The official death toll from the recent seismic events stands at 384, but given the extent of the destruction, it is expected to rise as more casualties are discovered.

The quake on Sept. 19 leveled 52 buildings in the sprawling Mexican capital, leaving thousands homeless and bringing down apartment blocks, a school and a textile factory. Mexican soldiers, volunteers, supported by international teams, have rescued at least 60 people from the ruins in Mexico City and surrounding towns.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto visited quake-stricken areas of Chiapas on Saturday to pledge aid for those affected.

An IDF search and rescue team set out for Mexico on Wednesday afternoon, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, and landed in Mexico early Thursday. The team members have been working around the clock under the command of Col. (res.) Dudi Mizrahi, who told Israel Hayom, "As far as we're concerned, there is still a chance to save lives. Rescuers can't work without the assumption that they can still find people alive. The locals are looking to us."

Mizrahi's contingent comprises some 70 soldiers and officers, both current military personnel and reservists. In addition to search and rescue experts, the team has brought in pilots, engineers, and medical staff. The team members have been divided to three main assignments: a collapsed building site where some 60 people appeared to be trapped beneath the rubble, most of whom were thought to be alive; a collapsed six-story apartment building, where Homefront Command soldiers used advanced technology to identify sounds made by a trapped person they hope is still alive; and engineers who examine buildings to determine whether they are safe for people to enter.

"We got to a site where a lot of layers of concrete had collapsed, with about 60 people trapped, most of whom I believe are still alive," Mizrahi said.

"The Mexicans didn't know how to handle it, and we explained that there are techniques for approaching the site, even though it was complicated."

At the second site, where special acoustic equipment picked up the sounds of tapping by a trapped person, the rescuers are still working fervently.

"The rescuers are tired, but extremely motivated. In Haiti, for example, we rescued someone who had been trapped for seven days. We have at least another two and a half days of work ahead of us. The difficult sights and the psychological stress of dealing with bodies and stenches is still ahead of us," Mizrahi said.

"To the Mexicans, the Israeli engineers' work is of the utmost importance. We are getting a lot of help from the Jewish community, which is 45,000 strong and is providing us with amazing support. They gave us space in one of the Jewish community centers, they're surrounding us with love, and providing us with food. The [rest of] the locals are also welcoming us with open arms, and every time an Israeli soldier goes by, they clap. It's flattering and charming."

Mizrahi said that Mexicans are throwing themselves into the rescue efforts: "There are thousands of people in the streets lending a hand. They've opened civilian aid centers, and anyone who donates so much as a bag of rice gets a round of applause."

Mizrahi said his team members "left home at a moment's notice, in the middle of preparations for the holiday, but with great love. Given an opportunity like this to provide assistance, there was no question or dilemma. It's a privilege to save lives, even when it's at a distance of thousands of kilometers from home.

"We've brought the best technology with us, and it's a great privilege for us to be part of this effort. The Israeli people should be proud that they have a Homefront Command that manages to make such a big impact with only 70 people, thousands of kilometers away from home."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Israeli Ambassador to Mexico Yoni Peled on Saturday, as well as with Mizrahi, and congratulated them both.

"What you are doing is a mitzvah. You are shining Israel's light in the world, a big light. It is important from a humanitarian standpoint and also to show the world the true Israel. You are making the State of Israel very proud. Be blessed and return home safely," Netanyahu told them.

The IDF team is not the only Israeli delegation on the ground in Mexico. A search and rescue team from the Israel-based iAID international humanitarian agency led by Eran Magen, who is coordinating the organization's work with the Mexican government's emergency crews and the IDF contingent, is also providing aid.

Lilach Shoval, Shlomo Cesana, Eli Leon, Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff

Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/2017/09/24/israeli-team-spends-rosh-hashanah-looking-for-mexico-quake-survivors/

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