- reporter, Tamara Kovacevik
- reporter, BBC News
Thousands of people lost their lives in the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria early in the morning of the 6th.
Search and rescue operations for survivors are currently underway, and rescue teams dispatched by governments around the world are also arriving one after another.
However, it is known that rescue operations are still progressing slowly in some areas severely damaged by the earthquake. Some residents are even digging with their bare hands to find relatives.
How does the search and rescue operation begin?
Rescue teams arriving at the earthquake-damaged site first assess which of the collapsed buildings is most likely to have people living inside.
The goal is to find “empty spaces” where there is a high probability of a survivor, such as a large concrete pillar or under a stairway.
It also considers the potential for further collapse of the building as well as hazards such as gas leaks, flooding, asbestos on the roof, etc.
As the rescue team approaches the survivors, the support team monitors the building and listens for unusual sounds.
In the case of a completely collapsed building, the chances of finding survivors are very slim, so they are usually searched last.
The work of the dispatched rescue team is usually overseen by an organization such as the United Nations or the sending country. After undergoing special training, rescue teams are sent to the scene in groups of two or in multiple teams, sometimes accompanied by locals.
What rescue equipment do you need?
Debris is moved using heavy equipment such as excavators and hydraulic jacks.
Excavators move large concrete slabs aside, and rescuers can enter and examine the people trapped inside.
In addition, imaging equipment that can pass through narrow gaps due to its flexible body can be helpful in locating survivors.
Professional sound equipment can detect very faint sounds from several meters away. The moment the rescue team stomps three times and waits for the response of the survivors, the surroundings hold their breath and wait quietly together.
Carbon dioxide detectors can be used to locate unconscious survivors. In particular, if the survivor is still breathing in an enclosed space, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air is high, so it can have the greatest effect.
Thermal imagers are also useful for rescuing people who are out of sight of rescuers, as the heat emitted by survivors’ bodies raises the temperature of the surrounding wreckage.
What is the role of a search dog?
Specially trained search dogs can use their sense of smell to pick up traces of survivors that humans might miss.
In addition, search dogs can quickly cover large areas, speeding up search and rescue operations.
Do you even need to work with your bare hands?
After the large concrete slabs and structures have been removed, rescuers use their hands and small tools such as hammers, pickaxes and shovels, chainsaws, disk cutters and rebar cutters to work.
You should wear protective equipment such as a helmet and gloves to protect your hands when removing sharp debris.
However, in some areas of Turkiye, where rescue operations have been slow, locals are digging through the frozen, wet building debris with their bare hands.
Bedia Gukum, a restaurant owner in Adana, southern Turkey, told the BBC: “To move rubble by hand, you need sturdy work gloves. This is because when you hear the sound of survivors, you have to stop all heavy equipment and dig by hand. It is beyond human ability,” he said.
“I need a hand at the rescue site now, and I need a glove for this hand.”
When will the rescue operation end?
The end of the rescue operation will be determined by the United Nations coordinating body and the central or local governments of the affected countries.
Search and rescue operations usually end 5-7 days after a disaster if no survivors are found for 1-2 days.
However, survivors are often found well beyond this period.
In Haiti in 2010, a man trapped in the rubble of a building was rescued after 27 days, and in 2013, a woman trapped in a collapsed factory building in Bangladesh was rescued after 17 days.