‘We will never forget’: Emotional crowd greets B.C. search team returning from Turkey

Click to play video: 'BC rescue team returns home from Turkey'
BC rescue team returns home from Turkey
A large crowd on hand at YVR to give Burnaby's Urban Search and Rescue team a hero's welcome as they return from the earthquake zone in Turkey. Kamil Karamali reports – Feb 15, 2023

Packing flowers and waving Turkish and Canadian flags, an emotional crowd greeted members of a B.C. search-and-rescue team as they arrived at the Vancouver International Airport, Tuesday evening.

The 10-member Burnaby Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) crew touched down after a week in Turkey, helping search efforts in the wake of a pair of devastating earthquakes in the country and neighbouring Syria that have killed more than 35,500 people.

Burnaby USAR, the only Canadian search-and-rescue team to head to the disaster zone, deployed primarily around the Adiyaman.

“For the past week, all of us are crying. We can’t sleep, we can’t eat, every breath we take it’s pain in our hearts, because we feel that people there at home can’t eat, can’t breathe, can’t sleep,” Tara Gulersen told Global News.

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“The moment I heard the news Burnaby was going back home to help our people, it was the only bright moment we had, so it was so, so important for us that our people here were there for our people at home. It was so emotional.”

Gulersen said she was so moved by the team’s efforts she wrote them a thank you letter.

Click to play video: 'Burnaby Urban Search and Rescue team helps with earthquake efforts in Turkey'
Burnaby Urban Search and Rescue team helps with earthquake efforts in Turkey

She said despite having never met any of the members, she felt like they were now part of her family.

“You fought for us. We will never forget these days, especially how you helped,” she read from the letter.

“I don’t know how to express my feelings or to express our gratitude, but please know you have touched on so many lives and you are known and prayed for by so many of us.”

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“We lost lots of people there, it’s so heartbreaking. I wish I could be there too to help,”  Fatma Altunatas told Global News, clutching a bouquet of flowers for the team.

Altunatas and Gulersen are both members of a group of Turkish-Canadians collecting donations for victims in the disaster zone. So far, they have managed to fill more than 7,000 boxes, and remain in need of tents, blankets, diapers, baby formula and flashlights.

“Everybody is trying their best. From 9 a.m. until 9:30, 10 p.m., everybody is at the warehouse,” she said.

Burnaby USAR, 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 Monday, team director Scott Murchison told Global News the crew had been helping on the ground in any way possible, from first aid to capacity building for first responders to humanitarian aid.

They also worked long hours using search cameras and acoustic search devices in an effort to find people trapped under the rubble.

Last Thursday, they successfully pulled a woman out from a collapsed six-storey concrete apartment building.

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The team is almost completely self-funded, and a GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help them cover some costs of the trip and to resupply for future work and training.

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