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Boston medical workers aid Iran quake victims

A team of 54 medical workers from Boston left for Iran yesterday as part of the Bush administration's humanitarian aid to the nation after tens of thousands of its people were left dead or injured following a powerful earthquake.


Federal authorities and local officials began mobilizing a crew from several Boston hospitals in the hours after the earthquake devastated the city of Bam, Iran, early Friday. The team flew from Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee yesterday afternoon, is scheduled to arrive in Iran today, and will set up a field hospital in or near the city.

The International Medical Surgical Response Team is the only one of its kind in the nation. It is capable of rapidly assembling a portable hospital anywhere in the world. Once set up, the portable hospital needs no resupply for 72 hours..

The group consists of medical professionals in every specialty, from physicians and nurses to respiratory therapists, pharmacists, paramedics, pharmacists, and anesthesiologists.

Twenty-four of the members deployed yesterday work at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The team includes pediatric specialists from Children's Hospital Boston, a burns team from Boston Shriners Hospital, and two emergency workers from Boston EMS.

The federal government had placed the team on "high" alert after raising the nation's terror threat level from "elevated" last Sunday. The team was prepared to remain at the ready through the end of January until receiving the unusual order to go abroad. Going to a nation having adversarial political relations with the United States gave some team members pause.

"Given the country of Iran and the political climate, I was surprised to get the call last night," said team supervisor Marie LeBlanc, a nurse manager at Massachusetts General Hospital. "I think we'd have to be very naive not to be concerned about going to Iran, but we are very much supported by the US government and assured that security will be there."

After receiving a call to action about 11 p.m. Friday, LeBlanc was responsible for mobilizing the team in several hours. LeBlanc stayed behind in the event another team had to be mobilized.

The federal government formed the team in 1999 after US embassies in Kenya were attacked.

It was first sent to the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Locally, it provides medical services for such events as the Boston Marathon and the Tall Ships.

Corey Dade can be reached at

earthquakes since 1923
March 25, 2002, northern Afghanistan: magnitude 5.8, up to 1,000 killed.
Jan. 26, 2001, India: magnitude 7.9, at least 2,500 killed. Estimates put death toll as high as 13,000.
Sept. 21, 1999, Taiwan: magnitude 7.6, 2,400 killed.
Aug. 17, 1999, western Turkey: magnitude 7.4, 17,000 killed.
Jan. 25, 1999, western Colombia: magnitude 6.0, 1,171 killed.
May 30, 1998, northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan: magnitude 6.9, as many as 5,000 killed.
May 10, 1997, northern Iran: magnitude 7.1, 1,500 killed.
Jan. 17, 1995, Kobe, Japan: magnitude 7.2, more than 6,000 killed.
Sept. 30, 1993, Latur, India: magnitude 6.0, as many as 10,000 killed.
June 21, 1990, northwest Iran: magnitude 7.3 to 7.7, 50,000 killed.
Dec. 7, 1988, northwest Armenia: magnitude 6.9, 25,000 killed.
Sept. 19, 1985, central Mexico: magnitude 8.1, more than 9,500 killed.
Sept. 16, 1978, northeast Iran: magnitude 7.7, 25,000 killed.
July 28, 1976, Tangshan, China: magnitude 7.8 to 8.2, 240,000 killed.
Feb. 4, 1976, Guatemala: magnitude 7.5, 22,778 killed.
Dec. 26, 1939, Erzincan province, Turkey: magnitude 7.9, 33,000 killed.
Jan. 24, 1939, Chillan, Chile: magnitude 8.3, 28,000 killed.
May 31, 1935, Quetta, India (now Pakistan): magnitude 7.5, 50,000 killed.
Sept. 1, 1923, Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan: magnitude 8.3, at least 140,000 killed.
Source: Associated Press
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