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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Hong Kong rescuers praised as they return from rescue mission in quake-hit Turkey

Hong Kong rescuers praised as they return from rescue mission in quake-hit Turkey

Chief Executive John Lee says ‘no one let go of any chance to save lives’ as rescue team lands on home soil.

A Hong Kong rescue team received a hero’s welcome when they arrived in Hong Kong on Friday night after nine days in Turkey searching for survivors of a huge 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

Cheering crowds arrived early at the city’s airport as the team arrived home, fresh from a similar scene in Beijing earlier the same day.

Family members of the Hong Kong rescuers cried tears of joy and many handed over bouquets of flowers as they were reunited with their loved ones.

A baby boy in a front carrier who greeted his firefighter father with a beaming smile and got a tender kiss on the forehead in return was one of about a dozen children at the airport to welcome a parent back.

Chief Executive John Lee at the airport to welcome the Hong Kong mercy mission to earthquake-stricken Turkey.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu earlier thanked Hong Kong’s heroes and spoke of his gratitude for the work of the 59-strong group.

“On behalf of the government and residents, welcome back safely to your home, Hong Kong. You have successfully finished the mission,” Lee told the team. “We feel very appreciative.”

He said the team risked their safety to save others and showed love and professionalism, as well as the outstanding capabilities of Hong Kong personnel and the spirit of mutual assistance across national borders.

“The team members faced all kinds of difficulties, including the threat of aftershocks, but they still raced against time to save lives,” Lee said.

“They also lost their energy easily in severely cold weather. I know some team members were too cold in the tents and couldn’t sleep. But no one let go of any chance to save lives.”

Lee shook the hand of every member and promised an official reception at Government House, his official residence, on Monday.

Peyami Kalyoncu, Turkey’s consul general in Hong Kong, said the Hong Kong team were now the “brothers and sisters” of the people whose lives they saved.

“We cannot thank you all enough for your heroic work and dedication,” he told the team. “We also thank the Hong Kong people for the messages of sympathy and all the donations they have been sending to help alleviate the impact of the earthquake.”

The warm welcome followed a similar reception in Beijing after the city team arrived earlier in the day on the same plane as their mainland counterparts.

Members of the mercy mission and a team from mainland China left Turkey on Thursday night.

Top Beijing and Hong Kong officials as well as representatives from the Turkish embassy led the welcome ceremony at Beijing Capital Airport at around 6pm, soon after the team’s Air China charter flight arrived.
The welcome ceremony for the Hong Kong and mainland China rescue teams in Beijing.


Hong Kong’s No 2 official Eric Chan Kwok-ki travelled to the capital in the morning with security minister Chris Tang Ping-keung and Fire Services Director Andy Yeung Yan-kin to join mainland officials in welcoming both teams.

The city team pulled four survivors from wrecked buildings in the hard-hit region of Hatay.

Chan highlighted the national rescue team reserved a spot for their Hong Kong counterparts right next to them in the command centre and invited them to join the United Nations’ coordination meeting. They also provided hot meals and fuel for the Hong Kong team.

The chief secretary also expressed his gratitude to the Chinese embassy in Turkey for providing assistance with translation and transport.

“It showed the high level of trust and confidence that the national rescue team has put in Hong Kong,” he said.

Wang Linggui, the deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said the cooperation between Hong Kong and the mainland in the mercy mission was unprecedented.

Chief Secretary Eric Chan (right) and Secretary for Security Chris Tang greet the Hong Kong rescue team in Beijing.


“Our rescuers had been racing against time fearlessly to save lives, while Hong Kong and Macau have been donating supplies to the [affected] zones. We have shown to the international community the successful application of the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong,” he said, a reference to the principle that governs ties between the city and Beijing.

The Hong Kong mission included 49 members of the Fire Services Department, two doctors and two nurses from the Department of Health, as well as six Security Bureau and Immigration Department staff – and springer spaniel rescue dogs Umi and Twix.

Rescuers from around the world travelled to the country and neighbouring Syria after both nations were devastated by last week’s earthquake, which has killed 44,000 so far, injured tens of thousands more and left millions displaced in harsh winter conditions.

The team dispatched last week by mainland authorities was made up of 82 personnel and it managed to find six survivors.

Three members of the Hong Kong Red Cross were sent to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, on Monday to assist humanitarian works by the Turkish Red Crescent and the International Red Cross.

Eleanor Lam, director of the Hong Kong Red Cross, told an online press conference the purpose of the trip was to understand the present conditions and identify the needs of the survivors, to better formulate emergency plans.

“As in Syria, we will focus on providing medical support,” she said. “The area has been plagued by conflicts, the Covid-19 pandemic, cholera outbreaks and acute economic crisis before the earthquake. All these impacted the infrastructure and accessibility to public services.”

A fundraising drive with a HK$5.5 billion target is under way and aims to provide humanitarian support to 3.75 million quake victims in the next two years, Lam said.

“It will take years for the community to recover and rebuild their life. This is a marathon,” she added. “We need all kinds of support, including donations, to make sure no one is left behind in the years to come.”

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