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Haiti rescuer speaks of devastation

PUBLISHED: 09:18 27 January 2010 | UPDATED: 21:54 07 July 2010

A NORFOLK search and rescue volunteer with more than a decade's experience of helping in disaster zones has told how the devastation he witnessed in Haiti is the worst he has ever seen.

A NORFOLK search and rescue volunteer with more than a decade's experience of helping in disaster zones has told how the devastation he witnessed in Haiti is the worst he has ever seen.

Father-of-two Gary Francis returned from the earthquake hit country on Saturday, after spending more than week searching for survivors amid the rubble.

Mr Francis, who has also helped rescue efforts in Sri Lanka after the Boxing Day Tsunami, said: “It was definitely the worst one I have been to.

“Port-au-Prince is an absolutely huge city and literally every building we went to and saw had been damaged in some way, from minor cracks to completely collapsed.”

Mr Francis, from The Street, in Bridgham near Thetford, flew out in the early hours of Thursday, January 14, following the earthquake on the Tuesday, initially to the Dominican Republic and with the UK charity Search and Rescue Assistance in Disasters (SARAID).

The team was one of the first there and was asked by the United Nations to set up a reception centre to help co-ordinate the incoming rescue efforts from around the world.

They handed over the centre to the UN after a day, and were flown out to Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince by the American Army in a Blackhawk helicopter, arriving on the Saturday.

Mr Francis, 45, an officer with the Metropolitan Police's Westminster burglary squad, said: “We searched a number of schools. At one of the schools we had information that there were at least 200 to 300 children missing in the school still.

“Unfortunately we located well over 50 children but they had all been killed.

“It was distressing for us because of the state of the bodies after several days in 35 degrees heat.”

Even more distressing was having to leave the bodies inside the rubble, because there is simply nowhere to put the mounting dead.

The confirmed death toll from the 7.0-magnitude quake has risen above 150,000 in the Port-au-Prince area alone, it has emerged.

The search for survivors has officially ended and the focus has now shifted to aid.

It is believed the quake may have killed as many as 200,0000 people, while an estimated 1.5m more have been left homeless.

SARAID will now begin to raise enough money to help cover the cost of the trip, which cost in the region of £25,000.

Donations can be made online at www.saraid.co.uk

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