BANGOR’S K9 Search and Rescue team is travelling to Turkey to join international rescue efforts to help people caught up in the earthquake devastation.
Ryan Gray, K9 group founder and his rescue dog Max will be joined by colleagues Kyle Murray, his rescue dog Delta, and Tom McMaster, as the team ventures to Turkey on Friday to join the massive rescue zone effort.
The team provides specialised search and rescue dogs for urban, rural, coastal and disaster situations to locate missing people and recently supported the emergency services attending the Cresslough explosion in County Donegal.
At the time of going to press, more than 11,000 people in southern Turkey and northern Syria are known to have been killed in the natural disaster, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck on Monday morning.
Nine hours later a second quake struck, with a 7.5 magnitude, with tremors felt as far afield as Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Palestine.
Despite the challenging rescue conditions of heavy rain and snow in Turkey, Ryan said: “We are keen to go. It is carnage out there, we just hope we can find people.”
Both Turkey and Syria are still reeling from the devastating aftermath as thousands of buildings were reduced to rubble. Heavy machinery has worked through the nights in the city of Adana, with lights illuminating the collapsed buildings and huge slabs of concrete, with similar scenes across southern Turkey.
However there has been harsh criticism levelled at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the official rescue response as he visited the disaster zone in his country.
Speaking as he prepared to join the international rescue effort, Ryan said the K-19 team was ‘itching’ to join the international rescue effort and ‘wanted to be on the plane yesterday’ after receiving their authorisation on Wednesday.
He said: “We have got our authorisation and will be flying from Dublin on Friday morning to Istanbul and then on to Adana in southern Turkey where we will be embedding with ANDA Search and Rescue Team.
“We also have an association with EVOLSAR, the European Association of Civil Protection Volunteer Teams, as we are part of the response to disasters within Europe and all the teams are coming together.”
Eager to get out and help those in need, Ryan said: “The only thing that slowed us down is that we needed to get the correct authorisation from Ankara and they are in chaos so it took a bit of time.
“I am keen to get going as this is exactly what we have been training for. We have been training in California and at the UK Fire Service College and we had other training planned later in the year.”
Earlier in January this year, the K9 team embarked on homegrown training exercises in the derelict Flagship Centre, in Bangor. “That is why we were doing the training in the Flagship Centre,” said Ryan, “it is for this, for us all to come together.”
He has no doubt of the difficult scenes he and his fellow volunteers will be facing. “I am ex-Army and have seen some things. Our contact on the ground (in Turkey) has been involved in earthquakes and says it is like nothing he has ever seen,” said Ryan.
The volunteers are determined to do all they can to help the earthquake victims as Ryan said: “It is a one way ticket, we don’t know when we are coming back. We will go out and do as much as we can for as long as we can.”