29 December 2003

U.S. Sends Relief Assistance to Iranian Earthquake Victims

U.S. gov't, charity groups work to address the victims' needs

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- A U.S. C-130 transport aircraft landed in Kerman, Iran, early December 28 with more than 9000 kilograms of emergency relief supplies for the victims of the December 26 earthquake that devastated the ancient city of Bam.

U.S. airmen and Iranian soldiers unloaded the plane's cargo onto waiting trucks, which transported the supplies to the disaster site, 185 kilometers to the southeast.

This is the first U.S. flight to Iran since the Iranian hostage crisis ended in 1981.

Defense Department Spokesman Lt. Col. Jim Cassella said, "We share the victims' grief and we stand ready to help them in any way we can."

In all, the United States plans to ferry more than 68,000 kilograms of supplies to Iran. The Defense Department reports that eight C-130 aircraft and one C-17 have been commandeered from Centcom's Middle East fleet to participate in the humanitarian mission.

Captain Steve Honda from U.S. Transportation Command also reports that three U.S.- based aircraft have been loaded with supplies and disaster relief teams from the United States and are en route to the Kerman airfield.

To date, emergency supply deliveries have included intravenous fluids, bandages, gauze and surgical equipment as well as food and purified water. Blankets and pajamas will also be provided, as most of the survivors currently have no protection against the cold.

Captain Honda also reports that two large rescue trucks are being sent to the site of the disaster.

In addition, the United States is mobilizing more than 200 experts in urban search and rescue, emergency surgery and disaster response coordination to assist in the relief efforts.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent its two International Medical Surgical Response Teams (IMSuRT) to Iran. The 30-member teams are specialized groups of medical professionals trained to establish fully capable field surgical facilities anywhere in the world.

The IMSuRT teams consist of nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists and pharmacists.

American personnel also include members of USAID Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DART).

The U.S. contributions to the humanitarian effort come as a result of direct contacts between Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Iran's Counselor at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, Mohammed Zarif, as well as Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations.

According to State Department spokesman Adam Ereli, "[Deputy Secretary Armitage] noted that this was a humanitarian tragedy that transcended political considerations and called for the support of the United States, and we were offering that support to deal with the tragedy of the earthquake."

A State Department official indicated that the urgent humanitarian need was the driving force behind this operation. "Our only mission is to alleviate the human suffering caused by the earthquake," the official said.

State Department spokesman Lou Fintor added, "There is no political angle."

When questioned about the possibility of additional assistance, Ereli responded, "I would say that we stand ready to continue our assistance and respond to the needs of the victims of this tragedy as appropriate and as requested."

U.S.-based non-governmental organizations are also involved in the relief efforts. Mercy Corps has had a team on the ground since December 27, the day following the catastrophe. To date, they have been able to supply 1,300 blankets, 1,000 space heaters, 990 liters of water and 500 family tents to the victims.

Mercy Corps has additional staff en route to the disaster site.

The American Red Cross is also working with sister organizations in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to address the needs of the victims.

These NGO's are benefiting from an outpouring of donations from Americans anxious to help the earthquake victims. Several groups are raising funds on their behalf. One such organization, the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), reports that it has raised $47,000 so far and that this number is rising at a rate of about $1,000 per hour.

NIAC's Dokhi Fassihian says that additional fundraisers will be held in the coming days, particularly within the Iranian-American community. NIAC is sponsoring a contest between Iranian-American communities across the country to raise funds for relief efforts and is seeking corporate donors willing to provide matching funds for these contributions.

NIAC is a Washington-based group that works to organize Iranian-American organizations across the United States and to coordinate efforts in raising awareness of Iranian culture and issues of political interest to the community.

President Bush issued a statement of condolences to the Iranian people December 26, as soon as he was apprised of the situation. In that statement, the president said, "The thoughts of all Americans are with the victims and their families at this time, and we stand ready to help the people of Iran."

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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