Van Dispatch: The Epicenter
Today took us to the other side of Van Lake to the municipality of Ercis which was the epicenter of the first earthquake. The damage was extensive, even with debris removal well under way in areas of the community, it was quite obvious from the remnants of buildings still standing that this was far and away the worst hit by the first quake.
It once again demonstrated that the old practice of not enforcing building codes ultimately harmed the community in ways never imagined. In our meeting with the mayor of Celebibagi, he was committed to never allowing such occurrences to happen again. He pointed to having enforced the building code since being elected in 2009 and the fact that no construction since 2009 suffered extensive damage.
The healthcare system is largely nonexistent in this area; where Van has functional clinic level care, Celebibagi has nothing. The nearest acute care hospital is 400 km away, which is a five to six hour car ride.
While in the business district of Ercis we witnessed how the community was trying to continue on. In among the barely standing remnants of buildings, and piles of debris, shop keepers set out their wares on the street, moving them when they had to in order for heavy equipment to pass.
This area suffered hundreds of deaths and while touring we heard firsthand the story of a man who lost nine members of his family in the building we were standing in front of. Recovery is likely to take years. But the community is strong in spirit and in spite of the challenges will likely do their best to return life to normal sooner rather than later.
After spending the day in Ercis we were taken to visit the Van Fire Department. They did everything they could with their 46 personnel and 4 apparatus on the day of the earthquake. Their one and only fire station is condemned and they have moved personnel and their dispatch center to tents in front of their building. The toll on the personnel is indeed great as many of them lost their homes in the earthquake and now simply live at the station.
While they respond to a multitude of types of calls, they generally don’t have any medical training and are totally reliant on the ambulance service run by the governor. We asked them what they needed and they provided a list of wishes ranging from more apparatus to personal protective equipment to training. Currently, they share 6 SCBA’s and do not even have boots for their 20 newest members.
Upon returning to San Francisco, we will begin sending requests to the fire fraternity to see what if any support might be rallied for these fellow heroes in a far away land.
This trip has been eye opening for a number of reasons; it has strengthened our resolve to make San Francisco the safest place possible, and truly appreciate the community and public safety departments that come together every day. It has also taught us what true resiliency is.