The team and their equipment were to assemble at Marlow by 0700 hours on the Sunday. Following the packing and final check of equipment, copies of the official letters from the El Salvadorian Ambassador were distributed to the team members and we left for Heathrow.
British Airways staff met us and ensured that the team and all their equipment was shepherded along through the media etc., and arrived on the plane at the correct time. Our flight to Miami was as we expected uneventful, with service from the crew being second to none. At Miami British Airways staff helped us with customs and immigration, finally leaving us with Challenge International Airways who would take us on to El Salvador.
Challenge laid on a special flight which saved us approximately 12 hours, and landed at 0213 hours local time at San Salvador Airport. Having cleared customs we were met at immigration by representatives from The Committee Emergency International. We were welcomed by the club president on the C.B. radio and taken to their H.Q., where a phone call was placed to our embassy. Arrangements were made and we proceeded to the Sheraton Hotel to set up our base camp in the grounds as the building was unsafe. With help of our local contacts and British Embassy staff the team started its task.
From the beginning it was clear that we would have to work on many sites in various locations.
To enable this to be carried out effectively the team would spend much of its time split into 2 or 3 small work teams.
A large complex built in approximately 1960. It consisted of a central block 7 storey high, which although badly damaged and in danger of collapse, had remained standing with no loss of life or people trapped within. The area on the left hand side of the central building had been occupied by some 300 – 350 people at the time of the earthquake. The limited information available only accounted for approximately 50 survivors. Many teams from various countries would work on this location. At the start teams would try to locate survivors using the dogs, sond and thermal image equipment.
When a possible survivor was located a shaft would be cut by hand from the roof down to the ground floor enabling the area to be searched. This process is comparatively safe for the survivors and rescuers but is very slow. Each shaft would take approximately 8 – 15 hours to cut and as many as 60 such shafts may have been required to totally search the debris. It was decided on the 5th day after the earthquake to start slabbing work. In this technique heavy plant is used to cut the debris into large sections, which are then removed using a crane. This demolition is comparatively quick in uncovering survivors or bodies but it is dangerous to carry out and is often responsible for the death of survivors.
The team spent approximately 282 man hours on this site and it was from here that the last live person was taken 8 days after the earthquake. It is sad to report that 1 hour after rescue she died of heart failure.
THE GRAND HOTEL
This was a 7 storey building. The ground and first floors had collapsed into the basement with the 5 upper floors sitting on top.
An American and Mexican team had already penetrated from the front. Team members managed to travel some 35 to 40 metres underground, often through spaces only just large enough to squeeze into.
Only hand tools were used to dig and cut their way forward. The casualty was located but was dead. It was during the operation to try and retrieve his body that an aftershock of 5.5 struck. Our team members some of whom were underground escaped uninjured. Approximately 55 man hours were spent on this site.
CASA DE PEDRO
This is an area in the mountains away from San Salvador. The area had been hit by landslides which had destroyed the houses and roads.
Many people had been injured and medical aid was required. The doctor started treatment and a search was started using dogs, thermal image camera and search lights. IRC was the first team into the area locating and helping 48 families. Relief agencies were informed of the location and further help arranged. A total of 273- man hours were committed to this area.
Our return home was a lengthy process, due to time change and a twenty three hour stop-over in Miami for connecting flights. This stop-over was made more pleasant by British Airways who supplied hotel rooms and by Dade County Fire Department who entertained the team for 8 hours. The flight from Miami afforded us a chance to relax and enjoy the excellent service provided by British Airways, prior to our home-coming and subsequent adjustment back to a normal life.
William McMartin – Team Leader
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