At least one heavy urban search-and-rescue (HUSAR) team based in B.C. has left to help earthquake victims in the Middle East.
“I understand that Burnaby HUSAR…has self-deployed,” Bowinn Ma, Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, said Wednesday afternoon. “Vancouver (HUSAR) is also currently waiting for direction from the federal government. We stand ready to support however we can.”
Local and international organizations are currently responding to areas in Turkey and Syria following an 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Monday. The current death toll in the region affected by the quake is approaching 12,000, but its remoteness, winter conditions and geopolitical calculations part of the Syrian Civil War have hampered the response.
Ma said B.C. has three heavy, urban search-and-rescue teams: one in Vancouver, one in Burnaby and one in Surrey. HUSAR teams are cost-shared between Ottawa and the provinces with Ottawa picking up to 75 per cent of the costs.
“We are incredibly proud of how committed our HUSAR teams are and so proud that we have these teams of people, who are ready to support people throughout the world with their highly-trained expertise.”
Ma said Tuesday that B.C. has let Public Safety Canada know the province is willing to help, adding that the federal government is coordinating Canada’s response.
“At this current time, they (Turkey) are requesting support from heavy, urban search-and-rescue teams,” Ma said after having spoken to Turkey’s consul-general.
Experts consider the Turkey-Syria earthquake the world’s deadliest seismic event in decades and Ma called the images from the area devastating, adding that the full extent of the earthquake including its death toll are still emerging.
“I don’t think anybody can take a look at the images that are coming out of there and not have some pretty significant emotional response to that,” Ma said.
The federal government announced $10 million in aide Tuesday.
“That’s an initial response,” Ma said.
News of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria came as provincial and federal authorities continue a large-scale emergency preparedness training exercise, simulating a 6.8-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Richmond and Tsawwassen. The exercise runs through Feb. 9 after having started Feb. 7 with prep work having started last week. The exercise includes nearly 200 organizations.
Ma said B.C. is always working to improve its own response capacities, adding that the government is working with the federal government to deploy an early-warning-system for earthquakes. A few weeks ago, B.C. announced the installation of 50 additional earthquake sensors throughout B.C., Ma said, adding that the province plans to introduce new emergency legislation this spring.
Community efforts to support are also underway as Vancouver’s Turkish community has been collecting donations.
Black Press Media has reached out to Public Safety Canada for comment and additional information.