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THE civil service reacted swiftly to news of the devastating earthquake that hit Sichuan Province on May 12. The quake, measuring 8 on the Richter scale, killed more than 70,000 people and left many thousands more injured and millions homeless.

Hong Kong’s efforts were recognised by the Vice-President, Xi Jinping on July 8 at the end of his visit to Hong Kong. On behalf of the Central Government and the quake victims, Mr Xi expressed gratitude and admiration during a meeting with 120 volunteer members of government departments who took part in the search and rescue efforts in Sichuan. He praised team members for their devotion, quest for excellence and professionalism, noting that these had earned the respect of the quake victims and the Chinese people. The team members came from the Fire Services Department, the Government Flying Service, the Department of Health, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the Water Supplies Department and the Information Services Department. A medical team from the Hospital Authority, which treated the quake victims, was also present.

RTHK and FSD-led team first to arrive

Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reporters, among other Hong Kong media journalists, spared no time in rushing to the scene to cover the disaster. The first batch arrived in Sichuan late on the same day.

Hong Kong’s search and rescue team was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the earthquake, leaving for Sichuan in two batches, on May 15 and 16. The team was assigned to carry out search and rescue work at Hanwang in Mianzhu, one of the most devastated areas. The team – working in conjunction with local rescue groups – recovered 24 bodies from the rubble of a collapsed office building and factory plants in the vicinity, and helped the People’s Liberation Army rescue a woman survivor trapped under a collapsed building.

The 45-member search and rescue team, led by Senior Divisional Officer of the Fire Services Department, Tam Tai-keung, included 34 Firemen, six Ambulance Officers, two Medical and Health Officers and two Nurses from the Department of Health and an Assistant Information Officer of the Information Services Department.

Mr Tam said, “With our focus on rescuing victims, we had no time to think about anything else.” He said that despite the obstacles, such as no water or electricity supply, all the team members did their best to rescue as many survivors as possible.

The team, which took with them about four tonnes of equipment, including life detectors and masonry-cutting machines, moved to Chengdu on May 20 after the task in Hanwang was accomplished. Despite frequent aftershocks, which at one point reached 5.2 on the Richter scale, team members persevered to complete their tasks.