Disasters & Accidents

Mexican volunteer tells of pulling people from Turkey quake rubble

Queretaro, Mexico, Feb 26 (EFE).- Mexican engineer Daniel Valezquez spent 10 days working as one of the few foreign volunteers in Turkey helping rescue people from the ruins left by the massive Feb. 6, earthquake.

Together with an interdisciplinary German group, the expert from the central state of Queretaro and two other Mexican specialists contributed their knowledge and efforts to save the lives of at least 17 people trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings in the southern city of Antakya, known in antiquity as Antioch, where the powerful quake left 90 percent of the structures in ruins.

“I’m a specialist in collapsed structures. I was also a captain of firefighters. I have an education in confined spaces,” Velazquez said in an interview with EFE.

“My companions who have done an incredible job, Sergio and Victor, are also experts in collapsed structures and confined spaces, but (Sergio) goes in, giving the coordinates, and (Victor) goes underneath the ruins, the hollows, and opens the way to be able to get in. He’s a real mole,” Velazquez said.

At least 50,000 people died in the magnitude 7.8 quake that hit Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6, making it one of the deadliest such disasters so far in the 21st century.

Velazquez’s job in Antakya was to make a survey of the disaster zone to determine if rescuing trapped victims or recovering bodies was feasible so as not to put the public or other rescuers in the area in danger.

But aside from the ruins, the rescue operations and the machinery used in the area, Velazquez also said how difficult it was for the Turks to leave their homes, since many of them were still walking through the streets amid partially and fully collapsed buildings to visit the sites where their houses once stood.

The local residents also approached the foreign volunteers like him to “feel like they were not alone, they were seeking that feeling of not being lost, without hope.”

“Despite the … material losses and the human losses, the feeling of belonging to the place (made them want to) remain there and fight to stay at the site and try, in (the situation) that was so tough for them to have experienced, to have a role along with the countries and experts from different countries” who were working on rescue and recovery efforts, he said.

Velazquez observed how children, women and older adults still stayed in the area awaiting news of their relatives who were missing, awaiting the recovery of a body or simply trying to save some of their belongings from the rubble.

“There were 17 people who were found (by my team). The government asked us … not to mention the dead, but our Mexican-German group found 17 (alive) and that gave us a lot of strength to keep going on,” he said.

Velazquez said that, after losing everything, there were those victims who viewed Mexico as an opportunity to start anew and asked the Mexican rescuers to take them back home with them.

“A young 17-year-old boy lost part of his family in the buildings that fell, his father stayed day and night (waiting for) the rescue of his 25-year-old daughter and this boy came around a lot … and asked to come with me,” he said.

“Between the smiles and everything, he said that he wanted to come with me, for me to please take him to Mexico with him,” Velazquez added.

After 20 years analyzing structures and working as a firefighter, the Queretaro expert has participated in many situations like this around the world.

At the beginning of this year he was in Ukraine helping plan camps for war refugees.

And although he makes these trips and performs this work without government support, he said that he will keep doing it as long as his body and his life situation allow him to do so.

EFE –/bp

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