SA rescuers relive Haiti experience

Monday, January 25, 2010

Johannesburg - Emotional trauma, heartbreak and memories of devastation characterise Rescue South Africa team's experience in quake-struck Haiti.

A ten-member search team from the North West and Gauteng as well as a rescue team from the Gift of the Givers departed for Haiti on 14 January to help locate survivors in the rubble following the devastating earthquake.

The team of highly skilled professionals in disaster response, urban rescue and advanced life support left the country with heavy rescue equipment and a substantial amount of essential and emergency medicines.

Sharing their experiences on their return to the country on Monday, team leader Ahmed Bam described the situation as devastating.

"It was traumatising; we went through tough time, going to the unknown was very scary," Bam said.

However, co-operation and support they gave each other kept the team going, which brought smiles to many survivors.

One of the most satisfying moments was when the team, with the assistance from the Mexican team discovered a 69-year-old woman who had been trapped in the rubble of a cathedral for seven days.

"We all worked together and looked after each other, our medical team attended over 300 patients giving injections and help with amputation. Plus or minus 600 people were discovered."

An emotional Andre Keyser from the medical team said that when he started treating the survivors, especially the kids, the smile disappeared.

He said there was a feeling of thankfulness but that was underlined by feelings of despair.

"We are glad to be back in South Africa. Even the poorest of South Africa have to be grateful as there's nothing left in that country but there's still hope... and South Africans must not stop helping people from Haiti," said Keyser.

North West Premier Maureen Modiselle expressed her appreciation to the team noting that doctors also need to be taken care of.

"Doctors are taught to save lives and we've got to take care of them. They should get assistance to deal with the Post Traumatic Syndrome they suffered," said Modiselle, adding that government will pull all the stops to assist.

Chairperson and founder of Gift of the Givers, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman thanked the team including the South African government especially the Department of International Relations and Cooperation as well as non-government organisations, which came forward and offered assistance.

"The South African team did a great job, they worked 18 hours a day with no time to sleep and adapted to any situation," Sooliman said.