An urban search and rescue team from Orange County is preparing to leave to Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rattled the tiny Caribbean island nation Tuesday, officials said.

Tens of thousands are feared dead as hospitals and other buildings collapsed, trapping people and disrupting communications in the impoverished nation.

California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 5 is one of 28 in the nation that responds during national or regional emergencies like earthquakes, terrorist attacks, hurricanes or other natural or manmade disasters. The team, composed of 80 personnel and four search dogs, is one of eight teams stationed in California.

The team assembled late Wednesday at Orange County Fire Authority headquarters to pack up and be deployed, OCFA Capt. Greg McKeown said. They were expected to board a flight to Haiti by 6 a.m., but authorities said the flight had been delayed. The team is expected to be enroute by noon today, for an effort that could last two to four weeks in the Caribbean country

Task Force 5 includes paramedics, search dogs, communication specialists and other public safety personnel rescuers trained to sift through collapsed buildings to find the injured and the dead.

The team uses detection devices and equipment to bolster damaged buildings and safely move hunks of concrete, officials said.

Task Force 5 is sponsored by the OCFA and includes members from the Anaheim, Montebello, Orange and Santa Ana Fire Departments, along with members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

Orange County’s Task Force was dispatched to Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav to deal with the aftermath. Task Force 5 will join a team from Los Angeles County Fire to help in the rescue and recovery effort in the Caribbean nation.

They will be taken to Haiti aboard C-5 or C-17 military cargo planes, McKeown said.

After years of political unrest, the struggling country of 9 million has no real construction standards.

The earthquake was centered about 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince about 5 miles deep, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Tuesday’s earthquake was the largest to strike the island in more than 200 years, with aftershocks rippling through the destruction. The dead and the injured lay in the streets.

Hospitals were overwhelmed. The United Nations reported late Tuesday that its headquarters had collapsed and “a large number of personnel were unaccounted for.” An estimated 45,000 Americans were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, but it is unclear how many had been accounted for.

Basic resources, such as food and water, are reported to be in short supply or non-existant in several parts of the country. The task force is prepared for that, McKeown said, packing with them basic necessities as food, water, and dog food.

Firefighters were being sent from around the United States to do what they could. Other groups sent sleeping bags, medicine and bandages. The International Red Cross sent a plane loaded mostly with body bags.

With temperatures predicted to hover around 90 degrees, rescue workers were looking to battle dehydration along with the lack of communication and medical services.

President Barack Obama issued a statement, saying: “My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this earthquake. We are closely monitoring the situation, and we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti.”

Register news services contributed to this report.

Click here to view a slide show from the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

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