As the search intensifies for survivors of the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and neighboring Syria on Monday, killing thousands of people, help from Southern California is on its way.
Nearly 80 Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel, members of the urban search and rescue team, were packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
“Hopefully they’re able to depart this evening,” Deputy L.A. County Fire Chief Tom Ewald said. “Today, going into Tuesday, hopefully they’ll be able to be in country and operational in 18 hours.”
The region is reeling after the devastating quake, followed by severe aftershocks, that caused catastrophic damage and tremendous loss of life.
Many people are feared buried alive in the rubble.
“I’m really hopeful that they’re going to be able to go there … rescue people … and make a difference between life and death,” Interim L.A. County Fire Chief Anthony Marrone said.
The specialized team has spent years training and has real life experience saving lives after the earthquake in Haiti, and more recently the 2017 earthquake in Mexico.
Members of the team include firefighters, paramedics, emergency room doctors and even K-9 teams.
“They’ve been trained to detect live human scent,” Ewald explained. “It’s amazing. After a human is killed or dies, there’s a scent transition, very quick, within a few hours, and the dogs are able to detect the difference. We rely very heavily on the dogs.”
Multiple humanitarian organizations are helping, including Team Rubicon, which spent the day assembling medical kits. Two members, including a physician, left Monday night to assist in whatever way they can.
“They are vetted physicians, trained people that have also been screened to have the skills and aptitude to be able to deploy into these austere conditions and deliver aid,” Team Rubicon Chief Executive Officer Art Delacruz said.
The challenges that they’ll face this time around will be unique.
“What you’re seeing on TV is exactly what the dangers are,” Ewald said. “The issue of aftershocks and secondary collapses, there’s a climate issue, it’s cold. There’s the disaster. So, all the things that come with a disaster environment.”
The team, which hopes to be on the ground in Turkey by midweek, is expected to be there around two weeks, but may stay longer depending on how dire the situation is there.