Virginia search-and-rescue team returns home after weeks in Turkey

More than 46,000 people were killed in a devastating earthquake along the Turkish-Syrian border this month, but survivors were pulled from the rubble by rescue workers in the weeks that followed — including a search-and-rescue team based in Fairfax County, Virginia.

After an intense 11 days searching for survivors in the wreckage of collapsed buildings, members of Virginia Task Force 1 have returned home. They arrived at their base in Chantilly just before midnight on Monday, to a hero’s welcome organized by family and friends.

“Thank you once again for representing us very well, like you always do,” Fairfax County Fire Chief John Butler told the 200-person team, which consists of structural engineers, physicians and paramedics.

They also received a thank-you from the Turkish ambassador to the United States, Hasan Murat Mercan.

“We are grateful for all that you have done in the aftermath of the quakes in Turkey. We are thankful — for you have been among the first (who) came to rescue the victims under the rubble within hours of the first quake,” said Mercan.

They were in Turkey as part of USAID. The agency’s administrator, Samantha Power, was also on hand to thank the team as it arrived home.

The crew spent 11 days working with locals to pull loved ones from buildings. While over 46,000 people have died from the disaster, rescue workers were still able to pull out many survivors.

Kristi Bartlett, a K9 search specialist, told WTOP’s news partners at NBC Washington, “There was a lot of collapsed buildings … I wasn’t expecting that many collapses.”

“They are very resilient country. We saw a lot of community involvement,” Paul Serzan, another VATF-1 K9 search specialist, told NBC4.

“There were people cooking on the side of the street for the masses. There’s people trying to just help each other out — loved ones on top of each rubble pile, each collapsed building, directing the rescue workers as to where exactly they lived in that building.”

The mission was a first deployment for Andrew Johnson, who works as a hazmat specialist.

“Seeing what earthquakes can do through pictures and media, and then being on the ground and actually seeing it firsthand,” said Johnson. “It was very, very, very eye opening. It was a lot to take in.”

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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