The Canadian Press - 5/20/2008
RED DEER, Alta. — Members of a determined Canadian rescue team plan to return to China after initially being refused permission to enter the area devastated by a massive earthquake.
Jet-lagged and disappointed, the searchers from Alberta returned home from Hong Kong late Monday after waiting for a week because they couldn't get the necessary visas to travel to the stricken Sichuan province.
Less than 12 hours later, leader Marcel Schur was told that Chinese officials have cleared up bureaucratic red tape and his team is free to travel to Sichuan to help look for survivors of the quake, which has claimed more than 40,000 lives.
"We are waiting for confirmation, but the Chinese government has given us permission and has asked for us to come back there and join in the effort," Schur said Tuesday.
"For us to be sure that we are going to be allowed in, we are going to ask for the visas to be issued in Calgary."
Dealing with Chinese officials last week was frustrating for the five men and three women on the team, who pay most of their own operating and travel expenses.
Schur said it was hard to watch news reports on television about all the death and destruction as the Canadian searchers waited in vain for credentials. Officials estimate the quake destroyed the homes of five million people.
"It was crazy. Everywhere you went they threw another loophole: 'You have to do this now. You have to do that,"' he said.
"It was pretty tough. Your hearts are just bleeding for these people."
The Canadian and British consulates finally advised the rescuers that the Chinese government was too bogged down to help, so they decided to leave.
Schur and his colleagues are members of the Canadian Rescue Team, part of a larger group called American Rescue Team International.
Doug Copp, a spokesman for the American organization, said the bureaucratic logjam also prompted a British rescue team to head back to the United Kingdom.
Copp said team members have specialized training in what he called urban heavy rescue. Once in China they will be deployed wherever the need is greatest.
"We will do whatever it takes in order to save those children's lives," Copp said.
The Chinese government has been working to set up temporary housing for victims of the May 12 quake. Officials say that 280,000 tents have been shipped to the area and 700,000 more ordered, along with 480,000 quilts and 1.7 million jackets for survivors.
The Canadian team members, most of whom are from Red Deer, included brothers Marcel and Jamie Schur, Shawn Hare, Steven Steward, Randi Butler, Laurie Patterson, Ashley Johansson and Chad Reed.
It was not immediately clear if all of the members would head back to China.
Bev Sliger, who helps co-ordinate the team, told the Red Deer Advocate that other international rescuers have also failed to get permission to travel to the devastated region.
"This is the first time anyone here from Central Alberta has gone to do something like this. It's all kind of trial and error," she said.
Foreign aide groups helping in Sichuan include a Russian mobile hospital and medical teams from Taiwan and Japan.
Marcel Schur said members of the Canadian Rescue Team are determined to try again.
"We all volunteer as search-and-rescue people here in Canada," he said. "All we are doing is extending that to other people. They need help."