As search and rescue efforts continue for the survivors of the chaos caused by Hurricane Dorian, a team from Virginia Task Force 1 – a part of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team – is preparing to scour the Abacos and Grand Bahama in search of trapped residents who may be still clinging to life.
The team is made up of 57 men and women who will assist the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Coast Guard, along with four canines trained to sniff out victims that are in hard-to-reach places.
“They are great at searching wide areas for live victims, so they can move a lot faster than we can and especially in buildings that are collapsed. They can run over them real quick and then assess whether the people are alive in that building,” said John Morrison, who is the public information officer for the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team.
Asked whether he believed that trapped victims would still be alive a week later, Morrison said, “We certainly hope so and we’ll be here as long as it takes to make sure that that’s the case. What we’ve found is that people of any nation are more resilient than you would think. So, we’re very hopeful that we can be a great resource here and help the Bahamian people.”
The USAID touched down in The Bahamas Thursday and almost immediately began aerial assessments of the trail of destruction left by Dorian.
“So, we were able to identify through an aerial reconnaissance flight yesterday some priority areas for both search and rescue and humanitarian efforts. So, our team is out there now on Abaco island setting up a place for where our base of operations may be set up, so they’re looking at that to make sure it’s an appropriate place to put us and our intention is to move there as quickly as possible with our entire team,” Morrison said.
“We specialize in wide area search and rescue, so once we find the areas that are the priority areas we’ll send teams out either via vehicle, via walking or via helicopter, to walk through those areas and talk to people to assess their search and rescue needs as well as their humanitarian needs and document that for the Bahamian government.”
But Morrison said there are big challenges.
“Logistics is obviously the most complicated, so driving – especially with the roads being washed out on those islands, you can’t really drive through, so it’s going to be helicopter operations or boat operations, and that gets much more complicated because you have to coordinate all those resources,” he said.
In the days following the disaster, Abaconians and Grand Bahamians, as well as their family members on other islands that were not seriously impacted by Dorian, voiced concern about the response time to evacuate and provide resources to affected residents.
Morrison weighed in, “Disasters, you never move as fast as you want to and especially in islands, it’s much more complicated to move people and resources between islands than it is if you can move trucks around to affect the disaster area. So, we’re going to work as fast as we possibly can, given the resources that are here in the area to help.”
Along with the USAID, the team is also working with the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the United States military.
“We’re here as long as necessary. Typically, we can be here for up to two to three weeks, but we’ll be here as long as both the Bahamian government and the USAID thinks is appropriate,” Morrison said.