Singapore's disaster rescuers have spoken highly of China for its well-organized and efficient relief efforts in southwest China's Sichuan province, which was rocked by an 8-magnitude earthquake on May 12.
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Tuesday, Francis Ng, contingent commander of Singapore's 55-member Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART), said that he and his fellow rescuers were deeply impressed by the close cooperation among the Chinese government, local authorities, soldiers, policemen, rescuers and volunteers.
Working around the clock, they have done their best to help the victims of the powerful earthquake, which has so far killed nearly70,000 people, he said.
"To those who are still doing reconstruction work there under very difficult condition, I would like to salute them for their bravery, for what they are doing...I would also like to salute the Chinese government for their very wonderful job," he added.
At China's request, the well-trained rescue team from the Singapore Civil Defense Force (SCDF) left for Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province on May 16 and began the following day their search mission in Hongbai town of Shifang City, located just 80 km from the epicenter of the quake.
During their week-long stay there, the Singapore team, supported by some advanced relief equipment and four rescue dogs, carried out search missions at 15 sites of the collapsed buildings there.
While regretting for failing to find any survivors but five bodies, they still regarded such trip as a meaningful one.
"Of course, saving lives is the top mission of our rescue team. We were very sorry that we didn't find any live, but at least we were able to help families to rescue the bodies of their loved ones, to give them a proper ending," said Ng's teammate Major Alvin Tan.
Local residents expressed their heartfelt thanks to Singapore rescuers for their assistance in extricating bodies.
As many as 1,200 of the 6,000 residents of Hongbai town, hugged by mountains, were killed when the 8-magnitude earthquake occurred.
Whenever they saw the Singapore rescuers, local residents usually thanked them for their hard work, Major Tan recalled.
"We were touched by the residents' gratitude," Francis Ng said, quoting Zhong Xiaoshu's words as saying that "there is a Chinese saying that good people will have peace all their lives. And you are good people."
Zhong, little brother of a female victim whose body was found by the Singapore rescue team, made the remarks when he went to the team's base camp to thank the rescuers for recovering the body of their loved one.
For the rescue team at that time, the biggest challenge was aftershocks when they were carrying out search missions in Hongbai town, Francis Ng said.
"It took place almost every hour," he said, adding that the strongest tremor they felt measured 6.0 on the Richter scale at the second night they stayed in Hongbai town.
In terms of the terrain, the intensity of aftershocks, Tan said that the Sichuan rescue mission was quite different from other ones they carried out in tsunami-hit Indonesia and Thailand, and quake-hit Pakistan in recent years. But once after the aftershocks, they went back to the mountains of rubble of the collapsed buildings.
However, Tan said, "What we have done there is a little, those who are still there (doing rebuilding work) deserve respect."
Francis Ng, who once attended a joint earthquake rescue exercise in Northern China's Shijiazhuang city two years ago, said this time he was not only impressed by the Chinese government's experienced work and the Chinese military's discipline and organizing capacity, he also believed that they would do well in the reconstruction work in the quake-ripped Sichuan.
While saying that they would never forget the days and nights they spent in Sichuan, both Francis Ng and Alvin Tan hoped that the relief efforts there could go smoothly, and the future reconstruction work as well as the incoming Beijing Olympic Games in August could be a great success.