The work of the Dutch search and rescue team USAR in the Lebanese capital Beirut is finished. On Monday afternoon, the team will fly back to Eindhoven with 64 volunteers, many of whom come from the Rijnmond region. That is ahead of schedule.
“If it had really been necessary, we would have searched for victims seven days and nights,” said Jop Heinen, spokesman for the Urban Search and Rescue team in the NOS Radio 1 Journaal. “But because there are so many teams here, it turned out after a day or two that the work was already done.”
Due to the corona virus, the team is not received by family members when they return home. The volunteers must also undergo a corona test on arrival, as before departure. After that, they have to be quarantined for two days (humanitarian workers fall into an exception category) and they receive guidance from a trauma psychologist.
The rescue team, including firefighters, health workers, construction engineers and eight search dogs, was sent to Beirut after the devastating explosion in the port to search for victims under the rubble. They were not found.
Last weekend, USAR helped local authorities map out damage to buildings. Among other things, it looked at whether buildings should be demolished or can be renovated. “Our engineers helped with that,” says Heinen. “So we started with a different task, but our people are now also badly needed in the Netherlands during the holiday period.”
Last weekend, thousands of Lebanese took to the streets to demonstrate against government corruption. Many people believe that the Lebanese government could have prevented the disaster. Due to the protests, USAR had to temporarily suspend operations.
“It was not considered wise to continue our work,” says Heinen. “But that’s the only thing we noticed, because we were a few kilometers from the city center.”
At least 158 people were killed in the disaster in the port of Beirut. Five thousand people were injured. Many people are still missing.