Post man rescued by Saraid from 'earthquake' disaster - VIDEO
When natural disasters strike anywhere around the globe, search and rescue team Saraid head straight to the airport. David Clensy experiences what their work is like from the earthquake victim’s perspective, as he joins the team for a training exercise
THE first thing I remember is the darkness. I can see nothing in any direction. I can taste the dust that is folding in around me, and there is an eerie silence.
As the rubble settles, the drama of the quake itself may have passed – but now I find myself trapped, deep inside what had been a familiar building, but which moments earlier had transformed itself into a dark warren of bricks, broken furniture and collapsed walls and ceilings.
I can’t move – partly because of the rubble on my legs, partly because of the partition wall that has come to rest just above my head. But through it all, I seem to have survived the earthquake physically unscathed. I can wriggle my toes, and my fingers. That’s always a good sign.
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I am alone in the darkness for what seems like an eternity, before I hear the first voices, then the distant sound of bricks being knocked through, and finally there before me are the smiling faces of my rescuers – angelic with a halo of light coming from their helmet lamps.
Thankfully, none of this is real – I’m taking part in an exercise, which has been running all week at the ramshackle former Barrow Gurney hospital site.
Voluntary search and rescue team Saraid – Search and Rescue Assistance in Disaster – has transformed the location into a remarkably realistic earthquake-ravaged set.
The team, which includes volunteers from across Bristol, trains once a month in order to be ready for action at any moment, with large scale exercises such as this held a couple of times each year.
The chances are, by the time you’ve heard about a natural disaster taking place somewhere in the world, these guys will be already on the way to the airport.
Before being embedded deep within the falling-down building in the role of “victim”, I meet Jerry Watkins – Saraid team leader for the exercise.
By day the 54-year-old, from Whitchurch, works as equine director at HorseWorld, but as a volunteer with Saraid for eight years, Jerry is ever-alert for the call to action.
He is a veteran of two major international earthquake deployments – the ex-Army officer volunteered with rescue work in both Indonesia and Haiti in 2010.
“I joined Saraid after watching the television coverage of the 2004 tsunami,” he says. “Lots of people are moved to make donations when they see disaster zones on the news, and that’s great of course, but I felt I wanted to do something a bit more hands-on to help people in this kind of desperate situation.”
But first Jerry would have to go through Saraid’s complex 18-month training scheme.
“There is a lot to learn,” Jerry says. “It’s not just a case of going out there and digging people out. It can be quite a technical process.
“For example, if a structure is insecure, we drill through the walls in a triangle – that’s the strongest shape, it allows the hole to support itself without collapsing. That’s why our logo is a triangle. Here, in fact, because the walls are stable, we have just removed the bricks in a square.
“Then you have to consider details such as whether we made the hole big enough so we can escape from the building quickly in the event of an aftershock, and whether we made the holes wide enough to accommodate a make-shift stretcher, such as a door or a piece of timber, which we could use to extricate the survivors.
“There are so many things you have to consider when you’re in a disaster zone. For example, in Haiti we had to have UN bodyguards for fear of looters stealing all our equipment while we worked.”
The team has spent the morning cutting down nearby trees to get wood that can be used to shore up the openings in the walls, and by breaching a series of holes in walls, they have opened up a route to where I now find myself lying.
“Don’t worry David, we’ll have you out in a jiffy,” one of the rescuers says reassuringly, as I am tied firmly into a stretcher.
The sense of immobility that comes from being strapped down and bundled up like Houdini, isn’t something I would recommend to anyone suffering from claustrophobia – but as Jerry points out, if you’re buried inside a building for real, being strapped to a stretcher is the least of your concerns.
So I lie back, and have to put my trust entirely in the four burly blokes who are now facing the unenviable task of lifting my ungainly 13.5-stone of bulk back out of the building.
But through a series of very deliberate, well communicated movements, the team of rescuers carry me across the debris, through the series of terrifyingly tight openings in the walls, until finally, half an hour or so later, the darkness above me erupts into daylight.
The blue winter sky, framed by the branches of brown-leafed oak trees, is a remarkably welcome sight – even though I know throughout I’m only experiencing an exercise, the relief is very real.
There is a reassuring pat on my shoulder as I am released from the embrace of the stretcher. It’s Jerry – his eyes smiling down at me from beneath his helmet.
“Welcome back,” he says. “Another one rescued.”
To find out how to help visit: Saraid.org/font>