A team of B.C. search-and-rescue experts deployed to help find victims of devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria is slated to return home Tuesday.
The Burnaby Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team flew to Turkey the day after last Monday’s 7.8 and 7.5-magnitude quakes, which killed at least 35,000 people, and has been working flat out to try and find survivors since.
“They’re just exhausted right now,” team director Scott Murchison told Global News Morning.
The volunteer team, which is mostly made up of firefighters from Burnaby, previously deployed to Nepal after its 2015 earthquake and the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
On Thursday, its members successfully pulled a woman from the rubble in Adiyaman, a city in southeastern Turkey. It took six hours to dig the woman out of a collapsed six-storey concrete apartment building.
“It was elation — everyone was just so happy — you work so hard and it’s such an emotional time because there are family members around, and to actually get to someone is very difficult to do,” Murchison explained.
“They have since then been running on adrenaline, (with) very little sleep, and just trying to get out there and search whatever they can. It’s a very difficult task, but they did get the woman out alive, she was conscious, and I just heard today she just had a little bit of injury to her kidneys because of the lack of water for the days she went, but other than that she is doing good.”
Murchison said the team has been working with the Turkish government, other international agencies and volunteers to help in any way they can.
The 10-member crew has been conducting targeted searches in areas where there have been signs of life, as well as supporting other teams.
“We do anything from first aid, capacity building for first responders, humanitarian aid, and in this case we’re doing lots of searching of buildings because there are tons of downed buildings, so we are using our search cameras and our acoustic sound devices to listen for people and then try and get to them,” Murchison said.
Thousands of rescue teams, including Turkish coal miners and experts aided by sniffer dogs and thermal cameras, continued to search pulverized apartment blocks for signs of life Monday, however, hopes of finding many more survivors have begun to fade.
Officials estimate that more than 5,700 buildings collapsed in Turkey as a result of the quakes.
Efforts to find food and shelter for thousands of people left homeless by the disaster continue.
Murchison said working amid the survivors of the earthquake has been heartbreaking for his team.
“Because we are there and we are able to go home after, but this is their home and this is their reality for the next while,” he said.
“So the team there is just doing anything they can to help them out in any way possible.”
The Turkish consulate flew the Burnaby USAR team into the disaster zone to help and it received some help from a NGO, but the crew is otherwise primarily self-funded, meaning some members have gone out of pocket on the deployment.
Murchison said they typically have a seven-day deployment window, but the work of other rescue teams will continue after they depart.
The team is expected to touch down at the Vancouver International Airport around 5 p.m. Feb. 14.
– with a file from the Associated Press