Humanitarianism Without Borders

Photos by Mike LEUM
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Montrose Search and Rescue team members along with other search and rescue members traveled to Turkey to join in the international effort to help after the devastating earthquake in Turkey.

By Lucian KUGLER

On February 6, a massive and destructive 7.8 earthquake devastated Southern and Central Turkey as well as parts of Northern Syria. Entire cities were leveled, millions were displaced and close to 50,000 lives have been lost as a result. Despite being stationed over 6,800 miles across the planet, seven members of the Montrose Search and Rescue (MSAR) team went to Hatay, Turkey in a six day humanitarian mission to locate and rescue individuals trapped beneath the destruction.

Mike Leum, LA County Sheriff’s Department and MSAR volunteer, described the first steps of taken to help the rescue effort in Turkey.

“The first thing I did was handpick the six individuals to go, and every one of them immediately said yes. Then my next call was to a friend of mine with connections [to the rescue effort] and within a few hours he called me back and said he was able to get us transport there via Turkish Airlines,” Leum said.

The team members were not certain what their job might be when they arrived but once they landed they went to the international rescue check-in and registered.

“They [those at the check in] were ecstatic to see us,” he said.

The destruction was brutal, Leum said.

“Buildings meant to be ten stories tall were reduced to 30-foot piles of rubble,” he said. “I’ve been a part of clean-up efforts for two hurricanes and this was far worse than anything I’d ever seen,” said Collin Lievense, another member of the MSAR crew that traveled to Turkey. “At first we thought we would primarily be dealing with medical relief, but once we got there it was abundantly clear that there was just so much help needed in literally unburying people…We got a very quick crash course in urban search and rescue.”

The crew spent six days of intensive rescue efforts, driving two and a half hours to and from the site each day, working ten-hour shifts and only having time for one meal a day. The team included four members of the MSAR Leum, Lievense, Robert Sheedy and Cindy England as well as Brad Lyon of the Santa Clarita Search and Rescue, Marcos Rubio from Altadena Search and Rescue and LASD retired sergeant Joe Larios. Their team joined volunteers and rescuers from around the world. 

”There was rarely a common language, but there was always a common goal, that being to rescue as many people as we could,” Lievense said.

The team learned  a lot from their humanitarian mission including how Californians need to be prepared for an earthquake.

“There’s far more people in the Los Angeles area than our search and rescue teams, fire departments and [law enforcement] can initially reach. There will be neighbors helping neighbors,” Leum said of the “not if but when” California earthquake.

Lievense advised people to prepare for these kinds of disasters before they happen.

“Every household needs an emergency kit with food, water or water purification, medication and the survival essentials,” he said. “Have a plan.”

For the individuals who would like to help the efforts in Turkey and MSAR you can donate to the American Red Cross and/or Montrose Search and Rescue Team on its website