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. ASEAN Holds First Joint Disaster Drill After Indian Ocean Tsunami

The tsunami triggered by an earthquake last December 26 ravaged Indonesia's Aceh province and killed an estimated 217,000 people in countries around the the Indian Ocean. It caused billions of dollars in damage.

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Sep 19, 2005
Some 200 personnel took part in Southeast Asia's first joint disaster drill Monday, aimed at preparing the region to respond more effectively to events like last year's tsunami tragedy.

Search and rescue personnel, including sniffer dog handlers, swarmed over a 20-storey abandoned building on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital which under the simulation had "collapsed" in a major earthquake.

Rescuers used shovels and their bare hands to remove rubble and extract "victims", while fire brigades extinguished simulated fires in the wreckage, and police units were on standby to arrest "looters".

"This is first ever kind of disaster exercise conducted jointly by ASEAN countries," said Raman Letchumanan, head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) environment and disaster management unit.

"It is to establish a standard operating procedure so that in the future if we have another disaster, we can respond quickly without delays," said Raman, from the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta.

"Last year's tsunami provided us with a wake-up call. Through this simulation exercise we can identify what are the bottlenecks so that we can smooth the entry of rescue teams into the disaster region," he told AFP.

The exercise involving 10 nations operated on the premise that Selangor state, Malaysia's most industrialised region which surrounds the capital Kuala Lumpur, had borne the brunt of the quake.

Local authorities were first alerted that many of the collapsed building's 1,200 occupants were trapped under the rubble, and Malaysian rescuers arrived on the scene and removed simulated victims from under concrete slabs.

Under the exercise, Malaysia declared a state of emergency and called for help from neighbouring nations. Specialised assistance came from Singapore and Brunei teams who joined in the operation and rescued two more "victims".

The tsunami triggered by an earthquake last December 26 ravaged Indonesia's Aceh province and killed an estimated 217,000 people in countries around the the Indian Ocean. It caused billions of dollars in damage.

Foreign rescue teams including those from ASEAN who responded immediately after the tragedy faced various obstacles including immigration red tape before they could get into Aceh.

The drill involved 23 officers from Singapore's elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team and six special squad members from the Brunei Fire Service Department.

Malaysia deployed about 182 officers from the fire and police department, search and rescue squad, and medical personnel. The other seven ASEAN countries sent personnel who acted as referees and observers.

"This exercise allows us to build relationships. It will also help faciliate training and resolve issues related to immigration and quarantine," said Singapore Civil Service Defence Force deputy commissioner Peter Lim Sin Pang.

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