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Searching for Survivors: Penticton fire chief and his disaster dog return from the Bahamas

Penticton fire chief returns from Bahamas

The level of devastation left by hurricane Dorian on Great Abaco Island is “catastrophic,” said Penticton’s fire chief.

Larry Watkinson and his loyal companion Sam were part of a 13-person, four-dog urban search-and-rescue team that has recently returned from a one-week deployment in Abaco.

“Sam’s primary role as a disaster dog is to get in the disaster as soon as we can, just because he is primarily trained to do live scent,” Watkinson said.

“So what that means is locating victims that are still alive that are trapped in rubble piles or collapsed buildings.”

WATCH (Sept. 10, 2019): Hurricane Dorian: BC rescue crews join grim search for dead

Hurricane Dorian: BC rescue crews join grim search for dead
Hurricane Dorian: BC rescue crews join grim search for dead

But Dorian’s destruction was so all-encompassing and so utterly complete that the mission soon became more of a recovery operation, with Sam pressed into action as a cadaver dog looking for human remains.

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“Right away, the smell, the debris, the garbage, the decomposition of animals and everything that comes with that, right away we know we have a lot of work to do,” Watkinson said.

The official death toll continues to rise in the wake of the category 5 hurricane, but right now 50 people have been confirmed dead and 2,500 are registered as missing.

WATCH (Sept. 13, 2019): UN pledges aid as new tropical cyclone bears down on hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

UN pledges aid as new tropical cyclone bears down on hurricane-ravaged Bahamas
UN pledges aid as new tropical cyclone bears down on hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

When pressed to talk about his four days scouring a Bahamian town for victims, Watkinson is understandably reluctant to share what he saw.

“We did exactly what we were down there to do, and that was to identify and locate victims,” Watkinson said.

“I’m not going to share the story how many or what it looked like; it’s just not what I want to share with you today.”

But Watkinson did want to share the story of how man and his best friend worked together in the face of a humanitarian disaster

“From what I saw down there, I just don’t know how they are going to recover from this,” Watkinson said.

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And Watkinson, like many others, predicts it’s going to get a lot worse for the people of Great Abaco Island before it gets any better.

“We are at the point now where recovery is the only option. Survivability is just not happening,” Watkinson said.

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