IDF to send 50-person delegation to earthquake-hit Mexico

Home Front Command engineers will assess integrity of buildings hit by tremor; small number of rescuers will assist local efforts

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Soldiers in the IDF Home Front Command's search and rescue units carry a stretcher during a large-scale exercise in Zikim near the Gaza border on July 3, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Soldiers in the IDF Home Front Command's search and rescue units carry a stretcher during a large-scale exercise in Zikim near the Gaza border on July 3, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

A delegation of 50 soldiers from the IDF’s Home Front Command is expected to travel to Mexico City on Wednesday afternoon to assist local teams after a large earthquake devastated portions of the country, an army spokesperson said.

At least 248 people were killed when a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico on Tuesday, including 21 children crushed beneath an elementary school that was reduced to rubble.

Late Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Mexico had asked Israel for aid after Netanyahu offered help.

“Netanyahu ordered that aid and a search and rescue operation be organized to leave to Mexico as soon as possible,” his office said.

A man is pulled out of the rubble alive following a quake in Mexico City on September 19, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / Ronaldo SCHEMIDT)

The 50-person delegation is made up mostly of engineers who will help assess the structural integrity of buildings in Mexico City and other affected areas. It will include only a small number of search and rescue personnel, and no field hospital. The IDF spokesperson said such delegations may be sent in the future, but that has yet to be decided as of Wednesday morning.

“This is what we’re sending for now. Whatever else will happen in the future, will happen in the future,” she said.

The soldiers will travel to the central American country in an Israeli Air Force Boeing jet, with a stop in Portugal. They are expected to take off at approximately 3:00 p.m., but the spokesperson said that the exact time might change, as preparations are still being completed.

Soldiers in the IDF Home Front Command fill bags with rubble during the rescue effort at a collapsed parking garage in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hahayal neighborhood on September 6, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The delegation is slated to return on September 29, ahead of the Yom Kippur holiday, the spokesperson said.

The IDF chief rabbi granted the delegation special dispensation to travel, as they will be in the air during the Jewish Rosh Hashanah holiday, when such activities are generally avoided under religious law.

The head of the delegation is Col. Dudi Mizrahi, the head of the army’s search and rescue unit, despite the fact that most of the troops will be engineers.

“They will help surveying buildings. Which structure can people go into, which structures need to be torn down,” the IDF spokesperson said.

Most of the soldiers traveling to Mexico are reservists, she noted.

The IDF is often one of the first countries to send humanitarian delegations to countries hit by natural disasters.

Israeli disaster relief delegations provided rescue and medical services after an earthquake in Turkey in 1999, an earthquake in Haiti in 2010, a typhoon in the Philippines in 2013 and, most recently, an earthquake in Nepal in 2015.

Last year, the United Nations’ World Health Organization identified Israel as having the world’s top emergency medical team.

AFP contributed to this report.

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