Europe offers aid to countries affected by quake

The European Union said Saturday that humanitarian agencies were having difficulty reaching the South Asian region badly hit by a powerful earthquake, but urged them to go and said the EU would provide financing.

The United Nations sent an emergency coordination team from Geneva, due to be on the ground in Pakistan early Sunday to set up a center for coordinating its own emergency reponse. The magnitude 7.6 earthquake jolted South Asia on Saturday, killing at least 2,300 people and injuring thousands more in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Several villages in northern Pakistan were buried in landslides triggered by the quake, the military said.

Aid agencies such as Doctors without Borders had difficulty gaining information from the area, making the preparation of emergency aid difficult, said Michel's spokesman Amadeu Altafaj. The EU urged however that aid agencies to prepare an international rescue operation as soon as possible. The EU can rely on Ђ3 million ($3.64 million) in primary emergency aid which can be unblocked with a minimum of red tape.

Six senior staff members of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs were due in Islamabad within hours, said spokesman Elisabeth Byrs. A crisis expert from the U.N. health agency also will be deployed, she said. Byrs said the seven would arrive early Sunday morning in Islamabad. Two would stay at the airport to establish a center there. The other five will head directly to "the most affected areas," bringing laptops, cell phones and other electronics needed for setting up relief infrastructure, she said. The U.N. might send more staff to Pakistan later, she said.

The international Red Cross said it also was busily preparing an emergency response in case Pakistan asked for assistance. Separately, the British government said it was assessing the damage and search and rescue teams had been put on stand by. Turkey was sending search and rescue teams and military planes loaded with supplies, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Erdogan said he called Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and told him that Turkey already had two loaded cargo planes waiting to be sent and asked what Pakistan needed. Aziz told him that Pakistan was in urgent need of search and rescue teams, and the Turkish leader said he would send them, Anatolia news agency said.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said German authorities were already in contact with relief organizations in the region and the United Nations to organize help. He said the Foreign Ministry in Berlin was working with the German Red Cross and Pakistani relief groups, and that it had given the German Embassy in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, Ђ50,000 (US$61,000) for emergency aid.

Austria's Interior Ministry said it was ready to send in relief workers and support rescue efforts. The military said it was on standby in case of a formal request for help, and the Catholic charity Caritas said it was sending Ђ20,000 (US$24,000) in initial emergency assistance.

The Austrian Red Cross said it would determine within 48 hours what kind of assistance would be the most helpful. Spokesman Bernhard Jany said clean drinking water would be urgently needed and cold be provided along with blankets and clothing, AP reports.

A. A.

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