January 25, 2006, Updated September 13, 2012

An IDF rescue worker walks amid the rubble with a search dog.Israeli officials rushed a rescue team to Kenya in order to offer emergency assistance after a building in Nairobi collapsed on Monday. The team, which includes highly trained members of the IDF’s Home Front Command, departed to Kenya following a request relayed to Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni by Kenya’s vice president.

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.

The aid mission includes Foreign Ministry representatives, medical staff, and rescue dogs. 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.

The Israeli team received a warm welcome, Brig.-Gen. Avraham Ben-David told The Jerusalem Post.

“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.”

Foreign Ministry officials noted Israel and Kenya have been longtime friends even during years where the two nations did not maintain diplomatic relations. Kenya also assisted Israel in the legendary rescue mission in Uganda in 1976, where IDF commandos freed Israeli passengers abducted by terrorists.

“They (the Kenyans) promptly turned to us due to the Israeli reputation when it comes to rescue missions,” said Yoram Elron, who heads the Africa department at the Foreign Ministry.

Israeli rescue workers are no strangers to Nairobi; a team of 160 was sent to Kenya’s capital city after the fatal bombing of the American Embassy in 1998.

“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.

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.

(Based on a report in The Jerusalem Post)

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