A Los Angeles County Fire Department Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team was told to deploy to Mexico on Wednesday, Sept. 20, after the government there requested US help to aid local authorities in the aftermath of a second devastating earthquake in the country.
Capt. Keith Mora, a LAFD public information officer, said the USAR team was officially notified by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) officially notified the team to deploy.
“On Sept. 19 a 7.1 earthquake struck central Mexico approximately 75 miles from Mexico City, killing more than 200 people and causing mass damage,” Mora said. “The earthquake came less than two weeks following a magnitude 8.1 that struck off the Southern coast of Mexico.”
The Disaster Assistance Relief team being sent is “an elite team of disaster experts trained in multi-faceted disaster relief” for a heavy-rescue operation to try and help as many people as possible, Mora said.
The captain said that 65,000 of gear, 67 personnel and five rescue dogs will be sent to Mexico “sometime within the next 24 hours.”
The majority of that gear will involve hand tools and chisels, Mora said.
“For the most part you’re dealing with collapsed structures. It’s going to be crawling through confined space,” he said. “It’s a lot of hand work, pulling rubble off by hand and stacking it in a different location so you can get to where you’re going. You have to get through that concrete and listen for sounds, and then hold everybody off until we can locate them.”
He said the team still had to get a plane, a route, “and know where we’re going. As you can image, the logistics of the supplies needed for Mexico have taken up a lot of planes, and a lot of resources going in that direction. It’s very challenging to get our assets in the air and en route to provide that assistance.The team and equipment could be sent by either military or commercial aircraft, Mora said.
The crew members include firefighters and medical personnel, and their gear includes food and water and other supplies that would make them self-sufficient when deployed to disaster scenes. Most of their gear had already been packed on two trucks when the official word came from USAID.
The team was activated early Wednesday morning, said county fire Inspector Joey Marron.
The crews could also be deployed to Puerto Rico if needed for hurricane relief there.
“We do have a Swift Water team within this unit and they are on standby. But we have not gotten direction from FEMA to be deployed to that region. But they are on standby, they are prepared, and they’re aware what’s going on,” Mora said.
Earlier this week, a 70-member team of Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters returned from a 24-day deployment to Texas and Florida, where they assisted in rescues and recovery following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Some of the firefighters who were assisting Irma victims are part of the USAR team going to Mexico, Mora said.