Search-and-rescue volunteers from around the globe – including the Semiahmoo Peninsula – flocked to Turkey and Syria this month, following a 7.8-magnitude earthquake Feb. 6 that toppled countless buildings and killed tens of thousands.
Returning from a week on the ground in Adiyaman, Turkey, Norm MacLeod said the scene was one of sheer devastation.
“We drove block after block after block, and in every direction, these large six-, seven-storey buildings were either completely demolished or tilted over,” MacLeod said Friday (Feb. 17), from his post at White Rock fire hall, where he has been deputy chief for the past three years.
Witnessing it firsthand and being part of rescue and recovery efforts is “something that most of us will never experience,” the South Surrey resident continued.
“To be there in a world-impacting event is certainly an experience that I won’t forget.”
MacLeod, 59, was part of a 10-person Burnaby Urban Search and Rescue team that deployed to the southeastern city of Adiyaman on the afternoon of Feb. 7, after reaching out to the Turkish consulate in Vancouver in the wake of the quake to offer support.
Within hours of being “boots on the ground,” the team proved its worth, assisting a Mexican dog team and a team of Turkish miners in finding and rescuing a woman who had been trapped in a collapsed building since the quake struck.
The BUSAR team’s equipment “helped to confirm that there was a person in need of assistance,” MacLeod said.
While extracting the woman took five to six hours, “I understand she’s doing well and on the mend.”
The story was among the positives that kept the team’s morale up and momentum going through the week, MacLeod said.
But it did not, by far, outweigh the negatives.
“Unfortunately not,” MacLeod said. “As we were working, we were also doing recovery and working in areas where people were not so fortunate to get out alive.”
While there was no time to dwell on that reality during the search efforts – “we were pretty much on the go right around the clock” – MacLeod said the team does strategize to help each other “recover from that exposure.”
“I think while we’re working, we’re really focused on the job and we don’t have a lot of time to let things really sink in,” he said. “But after, in the calm, we reflect, we talk about it… really look at how that impact can affect us as firefighters.
“I’m doing well,” he continued. “I felt that we had a good, solid, successful mission and we were able to meet a lot of objectives that we’d set for the team. We were very grateful to be able to be there to help the Turkish people in their time of need.”
Part of MacLeod’s own diffusing process, he said, involves spending time with his wife, Stacey, and his dog, Scribbles once home.
The 11-year-old chocolate lab accompanied MacLeod when the BUSAR team travelled to Nepal in 2015, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the landlocked South Asian country, claiming the lives of an estimated 9,000 people and injuring many more. Due to her age now, however, she was not able to join the mission to Turkey.
The death toll in Turkey and Syria, as of Tuesday (Feb. 21) had reportedly surpassed 47,000. Compounded by additional quakes that struck Feb. 20, it continues to climb.
The disaster is a good reminder to be prepared for emergencies locally, MacLeod agreed. According to getprepared.gc.ca, everyone should plan to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours, with an organized and easy-to-locate kit.
In a disaster of the magnitude seen in Turkey and Syria, 72 hours’ worth of supplies “would be just scratching the surface,” MacLeod noted.
“Having enough food and water and prescription medicine available is really, really important, and going to an area like this that was so devastating, you can really see how important that would be.”
MacLeod said he “absolutely” wouldn’t hesitate to respond to future events. As heartbreaking as they can be, they also unite people from around the globe with the common goal of helping others, while providing insight to just how strong people impacted by such events can be.
“I have immense respect for the people of Turkey and their resiliency in being able to work through this crisis, this disaster, and continue to keep their spirits up, their strength,” he said.
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