A volunteer search and rescue team that self-deployed to Turkey’s earthquake zone has returned to Vancouver to a hero’s welcome after spending days combing through the rubble as part of the international life-saving efforts.
The 10-person Burnaby Urban Search and Rescue team, comprised of mostly first responders from the city’s fire department, flew to Turkey with the blessing of the country’s government.
Arriving in Vancouver on a flight from Istanbul, members of the team touched down Tuesday afternoon following a week-long deployment in the Turkish city of Adiyaman.
A large group from Vancouver’s Turkish community waved Canadian and Turkish flags, breaking out into applause and chants of “welcome home USAR” as the team emerged from the arrivals gate.
Norm MacLeod, a deputy chief with the White Rock Fire Department who led the team in Turkey, said he’s grateful to be home after being surprised by the scale of the devastation.
MacLeod said his team had honed their skills in Nepal in 2015, a “disaster in its own right,” saying that the destruction in Turkey was “much larger” in scale.
Christina Mohammed and her three children awaited her husband Shawn, a Burnaby firefighter and member of the team, to return after a week away helping with the relief efforts.
Mohammed said she wasn’t worried because “they are part of such a highly skilled team and many of them had been deployed before together, and so you just trust that they’re safe, they’re taking care of each other, and they’re there to do good work.”
“It was hard not knowing where they were, but it was nice to see his face on TV when they were rescuing the lady,” she said.
The team said they picked a woman out of the rubble and she suffered minor kidney damage but is “resting comfortably” following her rescue.
The Canadian government pledged $10 million in aid soon after the quakes, and collection campaigns for food, clothing, and monetary donations soon popped up in multiple Canadian cities.
The team deployed a day after the Feb. 7 quakes that rocked Turkey and Syria, killing more than 35,000 people and levelling thousands of buildings.
Taylan Tokmak, Turkey’s Consul General in Vancouver, said the quake has united Canada’s Turkish community that may feel a sense of survivor’s remorse being so far away from the disaster.
“I’m feeling that, honestly, personally,” he said. Tokmak said he was surprised to hear from the Burnaby USAR team, who called him early Monday morning last week with an offer of help, arranging a flight the next day. “They saved one lady. They saved one of our citizens,” he said. “This makes us so much prouder.”
Tokmak said it’s been a hectic time, adding the country must now focus on organizing relief efforts and future reconstruction plans.
“This year is the centennial of our republic. We were planning to normally do a lot of celebrations,” he said. “Now, all of a sudden of course, everything changed.”