A group of firefighters from Burnaby and Penticton, B.C., are back home after a week helping crews in an area of the Bahamas destroyed by hurricane Dorian.
The volunteers travelled to the islands Sept. 7 after the Category 5 storm leveled buildings and killed at least 50 people, with more than 1,300 more still listed as missing.
Among the missing were three Canadians who the B.C. firefighters pulled from the rubble alive with the help of trained search dogs and electronic acoustic and seismic equipment.
WATCH (Sept. 7, 2019): British Columbians part of Dorian relief effort in Bahamas
Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson said after landing at Vancouver International Airport the experience was worth the trip.
“Our team went down there and did everything we could to help bring some closure to the Bahamians, and I think our team did great work,” he said. “We did what we went down there for.”
Watkinson joined a team of current and retired Burnaby firefighters who volunteer their time to join search and rescue groups made up of locals, Canadians and American officials.
After landing, the firefighters split into two groups in order to cover more ground.
The first Canadian located on Wednesday was Dale Hill. He was found safe at his home in the Marsh Harbour area of Greater Abaco Island. That night, they found Carrie Lowe further north in Treasure Cay.
On Thursday, the third Canadian Yves Bechard was also found in the Treasure Cay area.
Both areas were among the hardest-hit by Dorian.
Burnaby Fire Lieut. Scott Ruddy said it was incredibly challenging to walk into a disaster zone, but that it’s simply part of their job they signed up for.
“Things worked out very well, and I think we did a lot of good,” he said. “There were some tense moments, but overall it was a successful trip.”
WATCH (Sept 9, 2019): Penticton Fire Chief takes recovery dog to rescue efforts in the Bahamas
Ruddy said the team spent most of its time on body recovery and identification before being tasked with finding the three Canadians, along with delivering medical supplies.
“When you go down there and are just trying to identify bodies, it becomes a pretty grim task and the spirits of the crew got down a bit,” he said.
“But the guys were great, they all did a fantastic job, and those positive tasks we added on really helped with the moral of the crew.”
Watkinson said while he and the rest of the team are coming home, there’s plenty of work left to do across the islands.
“The people there are incredibly resilient, but the area is completely devastated,” he said. “It’s destroyed, there’s really very little left there. There’s a long road ahead for the people of the Bahamas, and Abaco in particular.”
—With files from Simon Little and Erin Ubels