'We couldn't hold back tears': UAE heroes speak of agony, hope amid Turkey earthquake rescue efforts

In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, the country's 'knights' share the overwhelming emotions they feel as they pull people out of the rubble at ground zero

By SM Ayaz Zakir from Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras

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Residents look at what remained of their house in the Islahiye area after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Turkey last week. — Photos by Neeraj Murali
Residents look at what remained of their house in the Islahiye area after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Turkey last week. — Photos by Neeraj Murali

Published: Sat 18 Feb 2023, 6:07 PM

Last updated: Sat 18 Feb 2023, 9:16 PM

Working day and night — hoping for miracles as they scoured through the rubble — Emirati rescuers in Turkey couldn't help but cry during their crucial mission.

"We couldn't hold back our tears as the rescued children were reunited with their families," Col Khalid Al Hammadi, head of the UAE search and rescue team, told Khaleej Times.

Amid the agony and despair in earthquake-hit zones, moments of relief and joy shone as the search-and-rescue officers from the UAE pulled out people alive after being trapped for over a hundred hours.

The team won't ever forget one particular sliver of hope: They were able to save an entire family from the rubble.

“The moment we pulled the mother out, tears of joy rolled out of our eyes — which made us forget all the other things happening around us. We focused on rescuing the family," Col Hammadi said.

“And when we got her daughters and the baby boy out, we embraced each other in joy."

These Emirati heroes have so far rescued 10 people and recovered several bodies. Besides the officers, healthcare officials are also working around the clock in Turkey — all united in their goal to save lives, comfort the afflicted, and bring hope to the survivors who now have to live with the painful memory of the worst disaster the region has seen in 100 years.

The death toll from the tragedy in both Turkey and Syria climbed to over 46,000 on Saturday. This number is still expected to soar, with some 264,000 apartments flattened in Turkey and many residents still missing.

Worst-hit areas

Twelve days after the catastrophe struck, Col Hammadi said their seach-and-rescue operation is now at level 5, which means they are no longer expecting to find victims alive.

“We have been told that a few more bodies are missing in the Kahramanmaraş region. We are on our toes round the clock to recover the bodies from the rubble,” the officer added.

Over 120 rescue personnel — divided into specific groups like medical, logistics, rescue, and canine — have been helping the Turkish authorities in six of the worst-hit areas.

“These six sectors are badly affected ones, as the buildings had turned into ground zero. We are trying our level best (to help),” he added.

Nearly 100 patients treated daily

As part of the UAE's Operation Gallant Knight 2, special field hospitals offer the best medical care to the injured.

More than 95 patients are being treated every single day at the hospital set up in the Islahiye town of Gaziantep district. They are given care for every ailment, not only injuries related to the earthquake.

“We have nearly every required facility at this field hospital," said Sarhan Al Neyadi, head of the Medical Corps for the UAE's Ministry of Defence. "From the outpatient department to an operation theatre and CT scan equipment."

Over 15 specialist doctors with 60 nursing assistants are working non-stop to provide quality healthcare to the people of Gaziantep.

“There are no hospitals within a radius of 60 kilometres, so people from all over the place are walking in to seek medical care. We are working nonstop to provide the best healthcare for the victims of the earthquake as well as sick people in the region,” said Al Neyadi.

The field hospital has also carried out several surgeries. “Our doctors are always on their toes. We were able to conduct many successful surgeries here because we have all the equipment required,” added Al Neyadi.

The people of Kahramanmaraş and Gaziantep have expressed their gratitude to the UAE, saying they are moved by the love and care that have been pouring into their communities since the disaster struck. The prayers that they are getting from all over the world give them hope, they added.

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