Will Israel’s famed IDF Search and Rescue Team, whose feats were well known in past earthquakes in place like Turkey and Mexico, once again see action in Italy? Following the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that stuck the city of L’Aquila, located in a mountainous region of central Italy. At least 50 people have been confirmed dead and numerous others unaccounted for in the quake which stuck around 3:30 a.m. and caused numerous Renaissance era buildings to collapse, including a university dormitory in which several students were still believe trapped, including possibly one Israeli university student who may be trapped in a collapsed school dormitory.
Four Israelis, said to be in the area at the time of the quake, were still unaccounted for at the time of this writing. Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman immediately offered his Italian counterpart emergency aid, including the dispatching of the rescue team and medical workers, if required. Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy’s Civil Protection Department called the tragedy in his country “the worst event since the start of the Millennium”.
Israel’s famed rescue team was formed following the bombing of a border police headquarters in Lebanon during the 1982 war in which more than 50 border policemen lost their lives when a suicide car bomber blew up the building they were housed in. Since then, the unit has been involved in rescue operations in places like Nairobi Kenya, following the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in 1998; and following the massive earthquake in Turkey in August 1999, when a team which included special search dogs and a portable field hospital were airlifted to Turkey and immediately began operating at the site of the worst damage.
Israel has often offered to dispatch this team to some unusual places, including the southern Iranian city of Bam, where thousands of people were killed in an earthquake in 2003.Their services were refused, however, by a government seemingly unwilling to let Israelis come and help save lives.
Although earthquakes are not a common occurrence in Italy, they have happened in the past and have caused massive damage to historical cities such as Rome. L’Aquila is located about 110 km northeast of Rome in the mountainous Abruzzo region which has two of Italy’s highest mountains not located in the Italian Alps. Famed for its medieval buildings, the city has a population of 70,000 and is the regional capital of the Abruzzo region.