By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ADANA, Türkiye (AA) – Calling post-quakes search and rescue operations a “very hard mission,” a team of 82 soldiers from Austria on Thursday flew home from Türkiye with “joy” as they “accomplished” their target to save people.
Led by Commander Lindenberg, the 82-member squad, including three doctors and carrying “helpful” six specially trained sniffer dogs of the Austrian military, was deployed to Antakya town in southern Hatay province.
“We saved nine people,” team spokesman Kugelweis told Anadolu as the squad was getting ready to depart for Austria in a chartered flight from Adana airport – which has been turned into a center for international search and rescue teams.
It was a “very hard mission,” said Kugelweis, acknowledging the huge scale of devastation caused by the Feb. 06 two earthquakes of magnitude 7.7 and 7.6, centered in Kahramanmaras, that affected more than 13 million people across 11 southern provinces – Hatay, Gaziantep, Adiyaman, Malatya, Adana, Diyarbakir, Kilis, Osmaniye, Sanliurfa, and Elazig.
At least 36,187 people were killed while thousands of others were injured in the region.
However, Kugelweis said the warm response of quakes-hit Turkish people to the Austrian team “gave us the energy to continue our work.”
It is “catastrophic,” he said, pointing to widespread damage.
So, he added, “it was very important to be here.”
“We are very happy that we could help save people: men, women, children,” said the Austrian military officer.
- ‘Perfectly fine’ coordination with Turkish Armed Forces
Kugelweis said the Austrian team had a “perfectly fine” coordination and communication with the Turkish Armed Forces.
The Austrian team had set up a field camp some five kilometers (three miles) outside Antakya where other UN and EU agencies were also working in response to the “worst earthquakes of the 21st century.”
“We had our own water, food, electricity, and tents,” Kugelweis told Anadolu. “Our search and rescue teams worked 16 hours a day because the first 100 hours after such a disaster are very important so we could not waste time and we immediately started working after reaching Antakya,” he explained, adding: “So, the team members need a quiet environment for rest.”
As the Austrian soldiers were doing immigration check-out one by one at Adana airport, Commander Lindenberg remarked: “It was an honor” to join post-quakes search and rescue operations in Türkiye.
Türkiye issued a level-4 alert, calling for international aid which drew more than 9,000 international search and rescue teams including a 14-member volunteer group from Austria.
More than 249,000 search and rescue personnel are currently working in the field, according to Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD).
Around 100 countries had offered assistance so far, with two more expected to send rescue teams.
Besides rescue teams, blankets, tents, food, and psychological support teams, along with over 12,300 vehicles, including excavators, tractors, and bulldozers, were also sent to the affected areas.
Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last Friday that the country is facing one of the biggest disasters in its modern history.
Condolences have poured in from around the world expressing solidarity with Türkiye, with many countries sending rescue teams and aid.