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California rescue crews bound for Haiti never left the state

Despite the terrible devastation in Haiti, several California rescue teams that mobilized to save the lives of earthquake survivors never left the airport tarmac in the Golden State.

Haiti quake California search and rescue

In the hours after the big quake, rescue teams from Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Alameda and Orange counties – all with specialized training in the dangerous task of pulling victims from collapsed buildings – were mobilized for the search and rescue effort in Haiti. The Sacramento Press has a good description of their special skills.

But only the team from LA was actually deployed.

At first, the other teams couldn’t get clearance to fly into the battered airport in Port-Au-Prince, which was badly damaged in the temblor. By the time the airport could accommodate more flights, rescue skills weren’t needed. The mission in Haiti was changing “from rescue to recovery,” the Contra Costa Times quoted a U.S. Agency for International Development official as saying. Jim Doucette with the Sacramento Press explained to his readers:

Because of the massive traffic jam trying to get into Haiti and with the Government of Haiti priortizing who comes in and what is needed most, it made more sense to send our Team back home and have them wait here instead of waiting at Travis AFB. They are still ready to go and their cache is also packed and ready to go if and when called. Their mission right now is to relieve any of the USAR Teams that are currently in Haiti if needed.

The Agency for International Development's description of moving from "rescue to recovery" in Haiti highlights an agonizing fact about urban quakes: victims just can’t survive very long trapped in earthquake rubble, and sooner or later you have to stop risking the lives of rescue crews in the long-odds pursuit of another living victim. It’s a calculus authorities have to make, but people seeking missing loved ones understandably find it objectionable.

Sky News reported on a rescue four days after the quake, but these stories are rare.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-9r-55o20U

 

What makes it worse is that rescue officials sometimes call off the search too early.

Following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, officials stopped searching the debris of Oakland’s collapsed Cypress Freeway after a day. The search was dangerous and there was simply no way anyone could have survived the elevated structure’s collapse, they reasoned.

But two days later, when bulldozing debris, workers found a motorist still alive in his smashed car. (He later died.) As the San Francisco Examiner later reported, coroners who reviewed autopsy reports of people killed in the freeway’s collapse believed several others may have survived for a time, as well.

Filed under: Public Safety, Daily Report

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