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LA search-rescue heads to site of NZ quake

February 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Los Angeles County Fire's Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team is gearing up to mobilize to be part of the rescue effort at the scene of the New Zealand earthquake that has left death and destruction in the island nation.

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake in New Zealand hit the city of Christchurch, the country's second largest city.

By Tuesday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 75 and there were as many as 300 people missing.

USAR will be working under the direction of the U.S. Agency for International Development Disaster Assistance Response Team.

The team is made up of firefighters and paramedics rescue specialists, emergency room physicians, structural engineers, heavy equipment specialists, hazardous materials technicians, communications specialists and logistics specialists.

They carry 55,000 pounds of prepackaged search and rescue tools and medical equipment to conduct around-the-clock search and rescue operations.

"We will be flying in a commercial aircraft," said Jon Tripp, chief deputy of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. "We will be taking 74 specially trained firefighters supported by doctors and civil engineers."

Los Angeles County fire officials say their search and rescue unit is one of the most highly-trained teams in the country.

USAR was in Haiti early last year to help with the rescue effort following the earthquake that devastated the country. The team was also part of the rescue effort in New York City after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Our team will be focused on heavy rescue operations, so we have brought a number of additional equipment and supplies for anticipating drilling through and digging through concrete," Tripp said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.