Red Deer rescuers race against time

Two search and rescuers returned home on Tuesday after spending a full day scouring for earthquake survivors in Indonesia.

Technical search and rescue specialists Adam Beverley

Technical search and rescue specialists Adam Beverley

Two search and rescuers returned home on Tuesday after spending a full day scouring for earthquake survivors in Indonesia.

Marcel Schur and Adam Beverley of the Red Deer-based Canadian International Rescue Organization rushed to help after a powerful earthquake, measuring 7.6 in magnitude, struck the city of Padang and obliterated several villages across western Sumatra on Sept. 30.

The pair contacted the International Rescue Corps and shortly after boarded a 30-hour flight on Oct. 1 to southeastern Asia.

They packed along necessary essentials and around $30,000 worth of equipment.

Once arriving in the city of 900,000, the men were assigned to the Swiss team of 115 rescuers and 18 search dogs. After setting up tents and having a quick nap, they began a ground search. It was 4:30 a.m.

“If there’s any chance of finding any people alive, you have to deploy and react quickly,” said Beverley.

Buildings, several stories tall, had flattened like pancakes. Schur, 49, and Beverley, 36, helped search through five buildings including a school where 20 people were believed dead.

Initially, 19 bodies were recovered from the school, but one was still missing. Volunteers were tasked to finding the girl.

“We found no life signs,” said Schur, 49.

They searched a shopping mall and as they did, families surrounded and waited to hear for any good news. But there wasn’t any.

Despite finding no one alive, the rescuers kept pressing on.

Schur and Beverley used a camera, which is attached to a rotating telescope, so they can search for signs of life within deep crevices of rubble.

They also brought a Delsor, an acoustic and seismic-searching device. With the acoustic mode, a microphone is dropped through a hole in order to listen or talk with a survivor. In Padang, the men used the seismic mode which allows them to hear noises underneath the concrete.

“We can hear a mouse walk 30 feet away,” Schur said. “It’s very sensitive.”

This is the first time both pieces of equipment were used on a live mission, not just for practice.

The Red Deer men are well-trained to know the hazards.

“We crawled into a school and went three stories beneath it,” Schur said. “It was pretty stable the way it had collapsed.”

They spent 48 hours in the disaster zone and during that time, spent eight continuous hours searching for survivors. Other time was spent in preparation and debriefing.

“It’s pretty much standard to do eight to 12-hour shifts, especially when it is 36 C and 100 per humidity,” Schur said.

None of the United Nations-led teams found any survivors.

As of Wednesday, the United Nations was reporting 704 deaths. More than 102,000 houses are severely damaged.

Schur said it’s hard to see such devastation and the impact it has on people’s lives.

“You see the terror in people’s eyes, the sadness for their families,” he said.

Schur has been with Red Deer Search and Rescue 18 years; Beverley for a decade. Members of Red Deer Search and Rescue formed CIRO about two years ago after it was found their insurance wouldn’t cover them on missions outside of Alberta.

From the time they left Red Deer to the time they returned from Indonesia, their trip totalled 126 hours.

Schur and Beverley each pay their own way. Recently, they went to Malawi where they recovered a climber’s body on a mountain.

They feel the Indonesian trip was worth it. The people were so grateful to receive help from around the world, Schur said.

Beverley said it’s great to band together with rescuers from around the world.

“It’s like a big brotherhood,” he said.