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Since arriving in Kenya on Tuesday, the Home Front Command's rescue team have pulled out four survivors and seven bodies from the five-story building that collapsed on Monday in Nairobi.
Two other survivors were pulled out by US and British rescue teams. The death toll on Tuesday rose to 14, despite the efforts of the international rescue teams who worked alongside the locals.
Kenyan army Maj.-Gen. Paul Opiyo said rescuers had found four additional survivors still trapped in two locations, and had located a third site where survivors may be huddled.
"The first 72 hours are the most critical and all our efforts will focus on pulling out as many survivors as we can," Ben-David said. Unwilling to estimate the chances of survival of those still trapped, he said that more than 100 survivors had been pulled out of the ruins of the five-story building. Locals estimate that approximately 200 workers were inside when it collapsed, he said.
According to local reports, the construction workers had just finished lunch Monday and many were taking a nap when the building began to sway, then quickly collapsed.
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki told reporters that everyone was praying that more survivors would be extricated from the rubble in the coming days. "We need courage and to work hard," he said, adding that he planned to purchase the necessary rescue equipment to be prepared for future disasters.
While this was not the first disaster the Home Front Command rescue unit has dealt with, there was a difference in the way the building collapsed, compared with those destroyed in earthquakes or bomb blasts, Ben-David said.
"Here the disaster was the result of a badly constructed, partially built building. All the large concrete slabs fell on top of each other, pinning the workers between them. Our task will be to sift through each layer and search for survivors," he said.
Past disasters, such as the suicide bombing at Egypt's Taba Hotel in October 2004 and the tsunami in the Far East more than a year ago, resulted in destruction over greater areas than in Nairobi. If all goes according to plan, it would probably take four or five days to complete the mission, he said.
"There have been instances where trapped people have survived up to three or four days, and we have heard of instances where people held out a week or longer," he said.
The Israeli team, Ben-David said, received a warm welcome.
"To be involved in offering humanitarian assistance anywhere in the world gives us great satisfaction," he said. "Our goal is to save lives, regardless of religion, gender or origin. That is the beauty of our work."
The team, led by OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Gershon Yitzhak, left for Kenya early Tuesday morning, after Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni agreed to a request for assistance by Kenya's Vice President Moody Awori.
The team, 100 soldiers and officers assigned to rescue and medical units, flew to Kenya in two planes, taking state-of-the-art rescue equipment.
A statement released by the Foreign Ministry noted the long-standing ties of friendship between Israel and Kenya.
"Even during the period in which the two states did not have full diplomatic relations, Israel was allowed to maintain a presence in Kenya, in the form of an interest office. Kenya also played an important role in the success of Operation Entebbe," the statement said.
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