Source: IOL (Extract)
Posted: February 10, 2023

Cape Town – As the hours turn critical after two devastating earthquakes struck Türkiye and Syria this week, disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers (GOTG) has announced it would be including South African sniffer dogs and handlers in its search and rescue mission in the hardest hit regions.

On Monday, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the area at about 4.17am, and a 7.5 magnitude earthquake hours later. There were more than 1,000 aftershocks of a lower magnitude.

On Tuesday, GOTG’s first team of volunteers numbering 26 departed from Cape Town and OR Tambo international airport. A further six departed on Wednesday night.

GOTG founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said the team, with essential search and rescue equipment, arrived in Türkiye early on Wednesday, then flew to the Turkish city of Adana.

“The earthquake (zone) from there is two hours away. In terms of medical support, there were huge challenges. All the hospitals are damaged or destroyed, and they can’t have medical teams placed anywhere.

“We will look for a facility in Adana, and if they agree to give us a health facility, we’ll send a medical team to take over the entire health facility or look at the option of setting up our own health facility on condition they can bring the injured to the facility that we will set up,” he said.

Sooliman said GOTG had 100 medical personnel on standby. In Syria, GOTG runs two hospitals, with 320 staff, established during the war.

Sooliman said SAPS had agreed to release six dog handlers and five dogs, which flew last night from Johannesburg.

“Dogs make a huge impact in search and rescue, and they’re very efficient in helping you find where people are buried. And after that, depending on what happens in Adana itself, we will then release the medical teams.”

SAPS spokesperson Athlenda Mathe said police has deployed five search and rescue K9s and their handlers to assist with search and rescue efforts in Turkiye and Syria.

“The K9 search and rescue dogs are trained and used to search for missing persons and recover dead bodies. The K9 search and rescue dogs are able to detect human scent and remains and are able to find victims of floods and collapsed buildings.

“A team leader at the rank of brigadier has also been deployed to guide the team,” Mathe said.