Gift of the Givers and various USAR, K9 SAR and medical response teams respond to Turkey-Syria Earthquake
Humanitarian organisation, Gift of the Givers and several USAR and medical response teams and volunteers have deployed to the earthquake devastation in Turkey and Syria. These include members from Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) EMS, SAPS K9 SAR teams, Medi Response and SARZA. Gift of the Givers’ founder, Imtiaz Sooliman, said search and rescue teams, as well as medical teams, with specialised equipment flew to Turkey after been contacted by the Turkish Ambassador to South Africa, Aysegul Kandas and the Consul General in Cape Town, Sinan Yesildag, to assist. “They facilitated all the arrangements in Turkey. Our South African ambassador to Turkey, Dipou Letsatsi-Duba, has also requested our intervention. Turkish Airlines would facilitate the transport”, said Sooliman.
Six SARZA members from three different SARZA units ie Gauteng, Cape Town and Free State, joined the Gift of the Givers team with a focus on supporting the South African team with logistical and communication support.
The teams arrived in Turkey on Thursday, 9 February 2022. The search and rescue equipment was dispatched from the Gift of the Givers headquarters in Pietermaritzburg and arrived at the warehouse in Johannesburg prior to departure. The gear was the transported to Turkey via a Turkish Airlines cargo aircraft.
The logistics of the operation have proven to be a major challenge. Teams 1 and 2 were on their way from Adana to Hatay, encountering widespread devastation along the way. Despite rescue workers tirelessly searching through the cold and darkness, they are still finding it difficult to locate survivors or retrieve the deceased.
The Medi Response Search and Rescue members arrived at the international coordination point, following several days of travel. Operating under the banner of the Gift of the Givers, its members joined hundreds of international responders from dozens of countries.
Traffic leading up to Antakya is problematic, as is expected under such circumstances, which resulted in a 180km trip by road, taking eight hours.
Teams and members have registered with incident coordinators established camp, prepared equipment and planned logistics.
Reports from the ground indicate that three percent of collapsed buildings have since been searched and cleared of survivors. Teams already conducting operations have located and rescued survivors throughout the course of the day, in sub-zero temperatures.
“Upon arrival at Hatay stadium, the teams were informed that their accommodation could not be provided despite prior arrangements. Instead of pointing fingers, the situation is approached with empathy for the 15 million individuals affected by the earthquake in 10 provinces. Our diplomatic efforts then kick into gear, a crucial part of disaster response. Although the teams are eventually given space at the stadium, they lack the necessary equipment such as tents and blankets. It is recognised that this is a result of the overwhelming chaos and not a deliberate oversight.”
“Success in a disaster response operation requires advanced planning, strong leadership, teamwork, determination and unwavering dedication. This work is not for the faint of heart and demands significant strength and determination. Despite the obstacles, the teams made do with their own compact tents, setting them up in the open and using their vehicles to shield against the cold. Their morale remains strong and their spirits unbroken. After a 48-hour journey, they began the search, with the goal of conducting rescue and recovery operations. The team takes pride in representing South Africa and the African continent.”
“The utilisation of sniffer dogs will significantly enhance the efficiency of search and rescue efforts. Gift of the Givers joined forces with the K9 SAR unit of the South African Police Service and deployed a team of six handlers and five canines to Istanbul. They will proceed to Adana joining the team in Hatay.”
11 February 2023 The South African Search and Rescue (SAR) members teamed up with a local Turkish search and rescue unit and immediately got to work with conducting a meticulous search through a collapsed ten storey building. Making use of heavy machinery, specialised SAR and access equipment, teams methodically work a process through sites, in the hope of locating survivors.
The use of K9’s as well as sensitive sonar, thermal and audio equipment, aides in locating trapped persons. Unfortunately, survivors are yet to be located on this particular site.
Team members are fatigued as a result of travel and adapting to local conditions. There is limited food and trying environmental conditions prevail. Members remain in good spirit and have worked through day and night, as they take turns resting for short periods.
Paul Herbst confirmed that Medi Response members will be assigned new taskings, as their current tasking is concluded and the area is confirmed as cleared.
Syria The search for survivors in northern Syria continues, as the team works tirelessly to help those affected by the earthquake. Despite efforts, there are still thousands of people who are trapped beneath the rubble. Their focus remains on finding these individuals and providing them with the assistance they need. The rescue operations are ongoing and they are determined to help as many people as possible.
Search and rescue, medical support, meals and food parcels and now the provision of emergency shelter are among the interventions provided in Syria by Gift of the Givers. Their primary facility in the region is Ar Rahma Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in northern Syria. This hospital is further supported by their second facility, Al Hilal Hospital, which is located closer to the Turkish border. Their team consists of 320 permanent personnel, including both medical and non-medical staff, all operating within Syria.
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