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Foreign rescue personnel first join in China's disaster relief
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A group of earthquake relief professionals sent by Japan arrived in southwest China's Sichuan Province Friday to become the first foreign rescuers working in China since 1949.

The 31 rescuers began searching for three people, including a mother and her 70-day-old baby, buried in a collapsed building in the county seat of Qingchuan on Friday afternoon.

Although well-equipped, the Japanese rescuers had to use their hands to dig in the debris for the safety of those who were trapped.

They were the first foreign emergency personnel to enter China since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Sichuan on Monday afternoon.

Takashi Koizumi, head of the Japanese team, said the situation in Qingchuan was very severe, but they were very confident in their task.

He said saving lives was the top priority and the Japanese rescuers would spare no effort. They are scheduled to stay in Qingchuan for at least a week, depending on the situation.

Rescue teams from Russia, South Korea and Singapore have also arrived in Sichuan to help rescue efforts.

The death toll from the powerful earthquake rose to 22,069 nationwide as of 2 p.m. Friday, with 168,669 were injured, according to the emergency response office of the State Council. The final death toll is expected to exceed 50,000.

Monday's quake was the worst since the Tangshan earthquake that claimed more than 240,000 lives in 1976.

However, the Chinese government, stressing "self-reliance" at that time, refused foreign assistance after the Tangshan quake.

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