A Hong Kong rescue squad has been put on standby to help in search and rescue operations while relief funds will also be arranged soon, the city's government has pledged.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying vowed yesterday that Hong Kong would offer maximum support, saying: "As part of the country, Hong Kong will not shirk the responsibility to contribute to the rescue and relief work."
Leung instructed his deputy, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, to co-ordinate the government's response.
Lam said the Hong Kong team was ready to act and the decision now rested with the mainland authorities if, and when, personnel from the Hospital Authority, Fire Services Department, Government Flying Service and Civil Aid Service would go to Sichuan .
"If the mainland is in need, [the Hong Kong rescue team] can immediately depart to take part in rescue operations," said Lam, who did not say how big the Hong Kong team would be.
The mainland has said that outside assistance was not needed at the moment.
Lam also said Hong Kong would provide relief funds to the provincial government of Sichuan, and would take part in reconstruction work later, if it was needed.
Lam added she had contacted the chairman of the Legislative Council's Finance Committee, Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, to explore the feasibility of a special meeting this week to discuss the relief fund application.
Lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai, of the NeoDemocrats, said he would raise concerns about possible abuse of donations by corrupt mainland officials.
He said: "The last thing we want to see is that the funds end up in the hands of corrupt communist officials."
In response to the 2008 Sichuan quake, Hong Kong donated money for reconstruction work. But public anger erupted after reports of abuse of relief funds.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong relief agencies reached the affected areas yesterday.
Eleanor Lam of Hong Kong Red Cross, whose team had reached the outskirts of Yaan city, said there did not appear to be a shortage of relief supplies. However, many roads to Lushan county - the worst-hit area - were closed, hindering the delivery of supplies.
World Vision Hong Kong has initially committed HK$780,000 and Unicef Hong Kong has pledged HK$1 million.
The Catholic Church in Hong Kong said it would appeal for donations. Cardinal John Tong Hon yesterday asked Catholics here to join the Pope in praying for the victims.
Pope Francis called on the 100,000 followers in Saint Peter's Square yesterday to pray for those affected by the quake.