Most of the population of Turkey was fast asleep when the earth shook beneath them Aug. 17.
At 3:02 a.m., for 45 seconds, buildings lurched and walls crumbled, entombing thousands in their bedrooms, gasping for air and praying for help. Assistance eventually came from rescue teams around the world, including two doctors from the GW Hospital.
Doctors Anthony MacIntyre and Ray Lucas flew to Turkey as members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s two American urban search and rescue teams dispatched to the devastated country. They traveled to Turkey following the earthquake, which left about 15,000 dead and 35,000 injured last month. MacIntyre and Lucas presented their experiences to the staff of GW Hospital Wednesday.
MacIntyre searched through the rubble of an Oklahoma City federal building after a bombing in 1995 and the American embassy in Nairobi last year. The FEMA rescue team in Fairfax County, Va., called him seven hours after the quake struck.
Though MacIntyre’s schedule did not allow him to travel to Turkey at that time, Lucas was available to go instead. That day, he took off with the group of more than 60 rescue crewmembers on a U.S. Air Force C5A bound for Istanbul. They flew without stopping for nearly a day, refueling twice in mid-air.
Responsible for detecting and freeing people trapped in heavy structures, the urban search and recovery team is comprised of experts in search and rescue techniques and communication procedures, as well as medical personnel, the doctors said. The team touched down in Turkey equipped with high-tech telescopic cameras and listening devices, designed to detect signs of life buried deep within damaged buildings.
“This mission spanned an incredible area,” said MacIntyre, who joined a rescue team leaving from Miami the following day. “Unlike our past rescue efforts (in Oklahoma City and Nairobi) where damage was concentrated in one site, we were literally searching through an entire town for survivors.”
McIntyre later arrived in Eizmit, where the Fairfax team had set up camp on what used to be a go-cart track in the middle of town. His first job was attending to the Fairfax crew, now bordering on exhaustion.
As a result of unsafe buildings and an overwhelming demand for medical attention, a tent city of natives quickly sprung up around the relief camp. The locals were eager to lead the international rescue squads to their friends and neighbors, who they believed were still trapped in the rubble, MacIntyre said.
In two days, the Fairfax team rescued four people, including an eight-year-old boy trapped in a collapsed apartment building 500 feet away from the camp. Other rescues included two middle-aged women, one of whom could not move in her confined space for 50 hours, and a man whose surroundings trapped him in a crouched position for two-and-a-half days.
All recovered, the doctors said, including a woman who went out the next day digging through the wreckage with her bare hands, searching for survivors.
“The destruction was all around us,” Lucas said. “Even when we weren’t working, we couldn’t turn away from it. The sense of urgency was overwhelming.”