IDF sends rescue team to Kenya

Kenyan VP requests Israeli aid after deadly Nairobi bulding collapse.

rescue team maps 298 (photo credit: Zilum)
rescue team maps 298
(photo credit: Zilum)
Israel dispatched a plane with 80 members of a Home Front rescue team to Nairobi Monday night to help extricate survivors from a building that collapsed in central Nairobi Monday trapping more than 280 construction workers inside. Kenya's vice president requested the aid, which was immediately organized. Foreign Ministry officials said that Israel and Kenya have long standing diplomatic ties, with an Israeli embassy in Nairobi. The officials also noted that Kenya played a role in Israel's successful raid on Entebbe in 1976 by letting the IDF use Kenyan facilities for intelligence gathering and refueling.
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Israel dispatched a similar team from the Home Front's rescue unit to Nairobi in 1998 after the terrorist bombing there of the US embassy. The British government agreed to send a special team with rescue dogs and high-tech equipment, but their arrival was delayed until Tuesday afternoon, said Abbas Gullet, the secretary-general of the Kenya Red Cross. Immediately after the collapse, chaos reigned as hundreds of people formed lines to carry away chunks of concrete and wooden scaffolding, which a front-loader then pushed away from the site. Dozens of soldiers, firefighters, police officers and Kenya Red Cross workers worked to free those trapped. Construction workers said more than 280 construction workers were inside the building in central Nairobi. By nightfall, it was unclear how many were still trapped in air pockets and parts of the basement, officials said. Dr. Gilbert Oburu, who was coordinating emergency treatment for survivors, said he saw five dead bodies at the site. Four additional people died while undergoing treatment, a hospital spokesman said. Oburu said rescue workers brought out at least 68 survivors. They dug frantically into the rubble with bare hands, metal-cutters and crowbars to reach more survivors who shouted through drainage pipes and holes cut in the concrete. One person called a relative using a cell phone and said that he was alive under the concrete-and-steel rubble. A trapped person's hand could be seen waving for help from under a concrete beam. Tens of thousands of people ran to the site, clogging the roads and climbing on top of the rubble to watch the rescue. Riot police deployed to the area and beat back crowds with truncheons, clearing roads for emergency vehicles. President Mwai Kibaki announced he was cutting short an official visit to Sudan in order to coordinate rescue efforts, according to a statement. Rescue workers were running out of oxygen to administer to survivors as they were being pulled out of the rubble. There were also not enough power saws and other pieces of heavy equipment, Joshua Toro, assistant minister for roads and public works, said after talks with emergency workers. By nightfall, most of the onlookers had gone home. Professional rescuers set up lights and continued digging for trapped survivors at different places around the building. Meanwhile, a large bus with apparently failed brakes crashed through the medical triage area, injuring one medic and slamming into a parked ambulance. One construction worker, who would not give his name, said an inspector had warned last week that the structure was not safe and they were trying to stabilize the building. "This is all about building standards," said Kenyan Army Brig. George Kyaka, who was leading the military response. "But those who are alive are the priority now." "It is very important that we put in place mechanisms to ensure that only properly designed buildings are built," said Vice President Moody Awori, who visited the scene to check on the rescue effort. Most of injuries occurred during the building collapse, but some were injured during the stampede that followed, when Nairobi's normally crowded streets turned into chaos. "I was coming home from school when I heard a whoosh and people started running, and I was pushed over," Evans Omolo, 11, said while clutching his broken arm at the hospital. "I couldn't see what was happening, but people were jumping on me as they ran past."