Turkey earthquake: Gift of the Givers, K9 unit rescue woman, 80, stuck under rubble for eight days
Aid organisation, Gift of the Givers, rescued an 80-year-old woman buried under rubble in Turkey on Monday, 13 February 2023, following the massive earthquake that hit 10 cities in the country a week ago. The woman was found alive and rescued by the team, which also included the K9 unit and the Omani search and rescue unit. Rescuers used heavy machinery to dig through collapsed buildings for more than two hours.
Head of the K9 team, Brigadier Vimla Moodley, said the team, along with five sniffer dogs, was deployed. "One team had two dogs and the other one had three. It was amazing when the dogs reacted for us and found someone alive because our mission here was to find live victims rather than dead bodies. This is an unfortunate situation and devastating. Buildings with 900 occupants fell and all we can see are layers of each floor.”
Moodley said desperate families, who were looking for loved ones, reached out to the team for assistance and, often, all they could find were deceased members. "Some families want closure... we assist by using the dogs and, that way, the bodies are removed and handed over to families," she said.
Dr Qasim Bhorat, one of the team's rescuers, said the woman was dehydrated although she was "relatively well".
He said the team had extracted several bodies of deceased people before the SAR K9s directed them to the woman. “She was relatively well after being stuck under the rubble for eight days. It's a surreal feeling. We look at the videos now and tear up because that is our purpose. Finding someone and pulling them out is miraculous and it has boosted the team's spirits to the point that we will push again tomorrow. It's never too late. People are told no one can survive beyond day six and yet we found a live person”, said Dr Bhorat.
Dr Bhorat said the experience of rescuing people under the rubble was emotional. "It is a bit disheartening seeing disfigured bodies, smashed and in a bad state. Finding someone alive has given us a shot in the arm, while that window is still there," he said.
The organisation's founder and chairperson, Imtiaz Sooliman, said, "Congratulations to the team for pulling out someone alive several days after the earthquake. When we work together, as a call for humanity, for human beings, there is always success. We are hopeful that more live persons will be [found] in the building."
The Turkish ambassador in South Africa, Aysegül Kandas, said the earthquake was "the biggest disaster of the century", according to her government. The disaster covers 10 cities with a population of about 15 million. The number of people directly affected is 3,5 million. Hospitals and cities are demolished, and cities are erased from the map.
Ambassador Kandas said the recent Gift of the Givers rescue had restored hope that more live bodies might be found.
The country had received assistance from over 10 000 medics and rescuers from 100 countries. Ambassador Kandas said the country's needs list was constantly changing. Among items needed are mobile toilets, sleeping bags, generators, gas heaters and winter tents, among others.
Dr Sooliman said, “Our search and rescue efforts have been divided into three teams. Two of the teams, along with three sniffer dogs, are collaborated with Turkish teams. The other team, along with two sniffer dogs, worked with the Omani team where they entered an that no other team had reached since the onset of the earthquake.”
He added, “The Omani team has provided great support to Gift of the Givers by offering tents, blankets and transportation vehicles that they brought with them from Oman. Currently, there are 10 international and one Turkish team on site in Hatay, all of which have been sent, supported and funded by their respective governments. Gift of the Givers is the only NGO-driven team that is providing specialised equipment and deployment costs using our own funding. At our request, the SAPS K9 unit has been sent to the site and we are bearing the costs for all logistics. We are grateful for the sponsorship of flights by Turkish Airlines.”
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