Grim search awaits HK rescuers

A Hong Kong search and rescue team has arrived in Turkey following Ankara's appeal for international assistance in the wake of Monday's earthquakes that have now killed at least 16,000 in the country and Syria.

Speaking at the airport here on Wednesday ahead of the 59-strong team's departure for Istanbul, Turkey's consul general in HK, Peyami Kalyoncu, expressed his gratitude.

"I wish them all the best. Time is of the essence. Weather conditions are not favorable so their job will not be easy but we expect to hear very good news from them," he said. Acting chief executive Eric Chan Kwok-ki and Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung were also present.

The team consists of officers from the Fire Services Department, the Security Bureau and the immigration and health departments.

The team took over eight tonnes of equipment, including cutting machines and life detectors, and will work with local search and rescue teams.

They arrived at Adana in southern Turkey at 7.30 pm Hong Kong time yesterday and are expected to spend a week in the city, which was rocked by two powerful quakes and aftershocks on Monday.

They were welcomed by China's deputy consul general Wang Fei at Istanbul Airport at 4 pm.

Hong Kong Red Cross said roads are seriously damaged in Turkey, with its head of international and relief service, Karen Poon Hiu-yee, saying winter weather and blizzards were hampering rescue efforts and rescuers working to open up main roads.

"The situation in Syria is more worrying, as they lack resources due to the armed conflicts that has been going on since 2011," she said, adding the Red Cross is ready to send personnel over there.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Mao Ning said three Chinese had been rescued.

China's Red Cross rescuers are, she said, on the way over, along with medical aid for 5,000, as well as 220 tonnes of wheat for Syria. Another 3,000 tonnes of rice and wheat will be sent shortly.

A mother-to-be was pulled from the ruins of an eight-story building by Chinese and Turkish rescuers in Antakya, Hatay province, yesterday.

Beijing has deployed 82 rescuer and four dogs, while a volunteer organization sent eight rescuers and a dog.