Catholic agency rushes aid to North Korean blast scene

 CAFOD is sending $20,000 as part of a Caritas Internationalis appeal for the victims of the train explosion in Ryongchon County on North Korea on 22 April. Caritas are expected to launch an international appeal for US$ 200,000 in the next few days. Around noon on Thursday, 22 April 2004, two trains collided at the Ryongchon Station in Ryongchon county, North Pyongan province. The blast was caused by a shunting accident that led to an explosion of wagons containing ammonium nitrate and containers of fuel oil, according to local officials. On Saturday, 24 April, a UN, NGO and Red Cross mission travelled to Ryongchon together with DPRK officials to conduct a preliminary assessment and deliver medical supplies, blankets, kitchen utensils and other relief items. Ryongchon county has a population of 123,200 people; 27,000 live in the county city. The casualty figures provided by the government are as follows: 154 dead, including 76 children; five persons missing; and 1,300 injured, of whom 370 are hospitalized in Sinuiju city, near the Chinese border. Damage to property is extensive and reported to be up to 40 percent of the area of the township. About 1,850 homes, a large number of public buildings such as schools and offices have been destroyed or damaged. Families have lost their belongings and food stocks; the town is now without a functioning hospital or school. Those without homes have been accommodated with friends and relatives nearby and in undamaged public buildings. The railway line has been restored. The delegation reported that access granted has been good and now rehabilitation and reconstruction works are of high priority for the local authorities and international agencies. WHO will visit the hospitalized victims in Sinuiju this week. After learning of this horrible disaster, Caritas sent immediately a message of condolences and also offered assistance such as drugs, medical supplies and other relief goods for the victims and their families. Very quickly, within 8 hours, a message was received from the Flood Damage Rehabilitation Committee thanking Caritas for the concern and expressing gratefulness and appreciation for the help offered. Today, a message from the North Korean Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator was received. It said no immediate additional medical relief supplies are required, but emergency stocks need to be replenished. Rehabilitation efforts is needed also from the humanitarian aid community. Food assistance for about 15,000 people will be provided by the UN. Caritas will support the replenishing of medical stocks and rehabilitation efforts.

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