'There is total devastation' – Burnaby firefighters arrive in hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

A team of Burnaby firefighters and search dogs has landed in the worst-hit area of the Bahamas to undertake the grim task of recovering bodies and searching for survivors in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.

Thirteen volunteers and four dogs arrived in Nassau, Bahamas yesterday and were met by the National Emergency Management Agency (a federal government agency) and the minister of tourism, according to Burnaby firefighters’ union president Jeff Clark, who has been in contact with the team via satellite phone.

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Burnaby firefighters, Bahamas
A team of Burnaby firefighters and search dogs was en route to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas Monday morning, the area worst hit by Hurricane Dorian last week. - Contributed

He said the team landed in Marsh Harbour, a town in the Abaco Islands this morning (Monday).

“There is total devastation, with boats everywhere on the land and everything flattened,” Clark told the NOW in a text.

“It is the worst-hit area, as rescue and recovery has been affected by the debris that has been left by the storm and people have stated it is ‘unlivable.’ The priority will be rescuing and evacuating the living, and, with our four dogs, our members will be concentrating on search and recovery. They are going to work in (the shanty towns) to rescue, locate and mark buildings with deceased.”

FEMA initially told the team it wouldn’t be allowed to set up camp in Marsh Harbour but changed its position when it learned the team was self-sufficient for six days and had two 10-foot-by-20-foot tents.

“Two of our dog teams will be joining the team of 45 FEMA members to assist with live search,” Clark said. “The biggest hazard on the island is there is no shade, and the smell, heat and sun are exhausting for everyone.”

Dorian hit the islands on Sept. 1 as a top-of-scale Category 5 hurricane with wind gusts topping 200 miles per hour (320 km/h), according to a U.N. World Food Programme estimate.

It stalled over the Bahamas for nearly two days.

Some 70,000 people on the Bahamas need food and shelter.

The official death toll stood at 45 Monday but was expected to rise significantly.

The Burnaby team includes nine active Burnaby firefighters and four canine teams: Penticton fire Chief Larry Watkinson and his golden retriever, Sammy; retired Vancouver Police Department K9 officer Andy Krzus and his shepherd-mix Nika; City of Burnaby employee Chris Revitt and his Labrador; and retired Burnaby fire Captain Mark Pullen and his kelpie Hunter.

Pullen has done similar work after other major natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

In 2015, he organized a recovery mission including Burnaby firefighters after the devastating earthquake in Nepal.

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