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PH rescue team in Turkey battles extreme cold with the kindness of locals

The extreme cold weather in Turkey poses a challenge to members of the Philippine rescue team deployed in that country to assist the victims of the magnitude 7.8 earthquake. But with the kindness of locals — themselves victims of the massive quake — the team members are able to cope.

"Kung tutuusin po, bale ito po ang pinaka-challenging sa amin, 'yung weather, extreme weather," Richard Villaceran, assistant team leader of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority-EDC Rescue, part of the 82-man Philippine contingent, said in an interview on Unang Balita on Wednesday.

(The most challenging for us is the weather, extreme weather.)

"Hindi naman tayo sanay na ganu'n kasagad itong klima," he added.

(We are not used to the cold climate.)

However the team still continues with its duty.

"Still, natatrabaho pa rin po natin, lalo na po 'yung mga kasamahan natin sa USAR [Urban Search and Rescue], nandiyan 'yung 52IB, 54thIB [ng Philippine Army] at SBMA [Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority]. Tuloy pa rin 'yung pagtutulong na binibigay natin sa kanila (locals)," Villaceran added.

(Still, we are able to do our duty, especially those in the USAR, the 52IB, 54th IB, and SBMA. We continue providing help to them.)

The locals have shown their appreciation for the rescue team's efforts, providing them food and even heat, in the form of bonfires.

"Ang gumagawa ng bonfire, mismo 'yung mga locals na gumuho 'yung bahay nila. So it's either binibigyan kami ng pagkain at saka ginagawan kami ng bonfire para mainitan kami kasi mahirap," Dr. Ted Esguerra, team doctor of the MMDA-EDC Rescue team, said.

(It's the locals whose houses were destroyed that make the bonfires. So it's either they give us food or they make bonfires for us because it is really hard.)

"There was one time inabot kami ng alas-tres ng umaga. Sobrang lamig. 'Yung may-ari mismo ng building na nag-collapse, 'yun 'yung nagbigay sa amin ng apoy," he added.

(There was one time we worked until 3 a.m. It was very cold. The owner of the building that collapsed was the one who provided the fire.)

Villaceran only had kind words to say about the locals.

"Very helpful ang mga locals dito, lalo na't nakita nila na merong tumutulong sa kanila. So kahit maliit na bagay na puwede nilang ibigay, ibinibigay nila sa 'tin," he said.

(The locals are very helpful, especially when they see that there are people helping them. So they give what they could give, no matter how small it may be.)

Another huge earthquake

Just two weeks after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred on Feb. 6, another large earthquake with magnitude 6.4 struck the border region of Turkey and Syria on Feb. 20.

"Ang unang napansin ko, 'yung mga tao sa loob ng bus terminal sa loob, nagtakbuhan palabas. Eh kami, naka-tent kami sa labas kaya medyo kampante kami. Tapos maganda ang aming hard cases. In case lang babagsak itong itaas, sasaluhin ng hard cases," Esguerra said.

(What I first noticed is that the people inside the bus terminal ran outside. But we are in a tent outside so we are calm. Our hard cases are also sturdy and will protect us from falling objects.)

"OK naman kami. Walang injury, walang na-damage na kagamitan," he added.

(We are okay. No injuries, no damage to our equipment.)

Home soon

The Philippine Inter-Agency Humanitarian Contingent to Turkiye (PIAHC) will stop its operations in quake-hit Turkey on February 24, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) said on Tuesday.

"Wala nang makukuhang buhay, nasa ilalim na ng rubble," said Esguerra in an earlier interview. "I mean, ang locals dito they brought down the buildings na. Hindi na talaga makuha... Iba kasi ang architecture dito. 'Pag gumuho, as in durog."

(It's become unlikely that we will find anyone alive under the rubble. I mean, the locals have started bringing down the buildings. They can no longer get to anybody. The architecture here is different. When it collapses, everything is crushed.)

"Ang local [authorities] na po ang nagtatrabaho para sa retrieval. Dahil sa custom po nila, medyo ire-respect po natin ang culture nila," Villaceran said.

(The local authorities are the ones working on retrieval [of bodies]. They have their own customs and we respect their culture.)

The death toll in Turkey and Syria due to the earthquake has reached more than 47,000 as of Tuesday.

Stress debriefing

Meanwhile, the team members are grateful that their own needs are being met.

"'Yung ating Department of Health nagko-conduct ng stress debriefing sa amin. Other than meron silang field hospital na nagke-cater 24/7, 24 hours 7 days straight 'yon, binabantayan din nila kami," Esguerra said.

(The Department of Health conducts stress debriefing for us. Other than their field hospital which caters 24/7, 24 hours 7 days straight, they also look after us.)

"So kahit ako, doktor ako, nasa-subject ako sa stress debriefing," he added.

(So even if I am a doctor, I am also subjected to stress debriefing.)

"Meron silang minimum of two staff to talk sa amin. In case mayroong makitang pathology, doon magfo-focus kung anong necessary intervention, parang some sort of a group therapy or psychotherapy," Esguerra said.

(They have a minimum of two staff to talk to us. In case they see any pathology, they will focus on that to determine the necessary intervention, such as some sort of group therapy or psychotherapy.)

The Philippine rescue team will be back home on March 1. —KG, GMA Integrated News