Los Angeles search and rescue workers have returned from Turkey after weeks of helping in the aftermath of the region’s massive earthquake that killed tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands.
More than 80 Los Angeles County firefighters were dispatched Feb. 6 as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, including a search and rescue team from Fairfax, Virginia, after the magnitude-7.8 earthquake which devastated Turkey and northern Syria that day.
The LA County and Virginia crews are the only teams in the country eligible for the USAID program to assist in international disaster relief.
“DART led the search for survivors in Adiyaman, Turkey, and surrounding areas using sensitive cameras, listening devices, search and rescue dogs and other specialized equipment,” the Los Angeles County Fire Department said in a press release Tuesday. announcing the team’s return.
The crew assessed more than 6,000 buildings, including hospitals and homes, examining dozens of buildings a day to determine if they were safe for residents to re-enter.
“It’s a big psychological challenge,” Joshua Svensson, a civil engineer with the LA County Department of Public Works who was sent to the region, recently told The Times. “It’s a heavy responsibility, but we go to these houses and say, ‘I would like to sleep here.’ People offering peace of mind is a big deal.”
They also performed hours of tunneling at buildings where they found signs of life and consulted with local personnel about rescue efforts.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department also deployed seven members of its search and rescue program, who arrived in Turkey on Feb. 10, according to a press release.
They mainly worked in Antakya in Hatay province, one of the regions hardest hit by the earthquake, which killed more than 47,000 people in both countries. The workers returned to the US on February 15.
Mike Leum, Deputy Director of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, has been a search and rescue reserve deputy for 30 years.
“It was a week of triumph and tragedy,” said Leum. The team, he said, rescued three people: a 52-year-old mother and her 18-year-old son, as well as a 17-year-old boy. “There were dead people, but three living finds were worth it,” he said.
The sheriff’s department’s search and rescue team worked alongside about 150 other personnel from Turkey and other countries, Leum said.