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Thetford man's role in Indonesian earthquake rescue

PUBLISHED: 09:00 25 October 2009 | UPDATED: 21:44 07 July 2010

A FATHER-of-two has told of the devastation he witnessed when he led a search and rescue team in Indonesia following last month's earthquake.

A FATHER-of-two has told of the devastation he witnessed when he led a search and rescue team in Indonesia following last month's earthquake.

Norfolk man Gary Frances and his 10-man team travelled to the island just 24 hours after the disaster struck, which left thousands dead or without shelter.

Mr Frances, an officer with the Metropolitan Police, arrived in Pandang in western Sumatra where the team spent four days and concentrated their efforts on sifting through the rubble in a search for survivors.

The group, organised by the charity Search and Rescue Assistance in Disasters (SARAID), spent more than 10 hours searching for a missing tour guide believed to be buried in the remains of the Hotel Dippo in Pandang.

Mr Francis, 45, from The Street in Bridgham, near Thetford, said: “It's a case of when you find a body you think to yourself that the job's done and at least now the family members looking for him can get some closure and start their grieving process.

“Some of the team go very quiet afterwards and go off on their own into a corner to process it but as a team we tend to sit around and have a chat.

“We did what was asked of us and we're safe and we've had closure for that part of the search.”

The team are all trained to undertake search and rescue tasks and provide humanitarian support in major disaster environments and were linked in with other support teams.

The earthquake struck 7.6 when it hit off the coast of Sumatra last month, killing at least 1,100 people and injuring countless more.

Mr Frances, who has also helped rescue efforts in Sri Lanka after the Boxing Day Tsunami said the team had to contend with humidity and temperatures higher than 30 degrees. They took equipment including shock cameras, a lifting device and tents.

“When you see disasters on a large scale nothing can prepare you for that,” he said. “There was lots of news coming in saying thousands of people were trapped in the building but we found it wasn't as bad as the news was saying.

“It wasn't widespread destruction. You could walk down one street and it was as if nothing had happened and the next would be demolished.

“There were certain areas people were getting on with everyday life and if nothing had happened but having said that there were also a lot of buildings which were single storey and quite flimsy which were destroyed.”

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

Anyone who can help with fundraising or offer a donation should email Mr Frances at gary.francis@saraid.co.uk


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