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Miami-Dade Response to Apartment Building Collapse in Barbados. August 2007. From Alan Perry, Program Manager, FL-TF1:
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On Sunday at approximately 1200hrs I received a phone call from Chief Lorenzo. He had received a call from the Barbados government advising of a partial collapse of a 2 story building into a cave. The Barbados government was asking for assistance in locating the missing occupants using our Fire Department's US&R team. Chief Lorenzo went on to advise me that the County had approved their request for aid and what could we do to get help to them A.S.A.P.
I advised Chief Lorenzo that we could try to put together a recon/search team with minimal equipment, at which time he stated he was en-route to HQ to help make this happen. I proceeded to HQ and started to call in personnel to help with all the necessary behind the scenes issues. The first critical issue of transportation was accomplished in short order.
Chief Lorenzo made a few phone calls where he secured an aircraft at MIA that was scheduled to depart at 1600 hrs. That gave us 3 hrs to obtain a small recon/search team with passports, identify what equipment we would need and move it from Homestead to our POD. Once that was accomplished we needed to drive to MIA, load everything and be ready for wheels up.
Our plan was to get 12-15 TF members out the door to identify if we were dealing with a rescue or recovery. The second part of the plan was to activate a 70 person team if we had any sign that we were still in rescue mode. Unfortunately, after we used our Live find Canine Teams who did not alert, our listening devices and our search camera that were negative, our Cadaver Canine Team that alerted us in 3 areas, we realized the probability of a live rescue was fading. During the next 24 hours, we helped the local government organizations with technical advice as they switched from a rescue mode to more likely a recovery one.
All 5 of the missing were located and removed. Mr. Lorde, OFDA-LAC coordinator,
stated that all were located exactly where our "sniffer dogs" indicated.
The search area was very steep and the rubble was very loose. The canines had to be confident and independent. The handlers had to be able to direct their dogs away from danger as well as into areas that needed to be searched.
Pictures from a rescuer's point of view:
Two out of three apartments fell into a cave that was approximately 50-70 feet deep. The walls of the cave were very unstable with the possibility of further collapse. We documented movement of cracks that started off as only a few inches across that grew to well over 1-2 feet.
Human Remains K-9 Spirit working search area
Problem, very big and deadly problem. This eventually collapsed as our Structural Specialist predicted. All rescue and recovery efforts had stopped well before this as there was way too much shifting in the rock formations.
I have gone on over a dozen deployments traveling around the world and this was the most challenging deployment thus far. It really proves that you need to train like it is the real thing every time. You never know when the real one will come. From walking out the door to go to Home Depot on a Sunday afternoon to driving to MIA to get on a plane heading to Barbados 4 hours later. You never know. We all have the “Big One” right here in our backyards. We should all keep one eye on the Tropics but also the other eye on the Ball. Hurricanes come with plenty of warning, the rest will put you to the test.--Alan Perry