Honduras Aids Their Mexican Brothers and Sisters

Honduras Aids Their Mexican Brothers and Sisters

By Iris Amador/Diálogo
September 28, 2017

Way to go guys Not even two hours had passed since a 7.1 earthquake struck central Mexico on September 19th, when the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, extended an offer of assistance to the Mexican government and its people. “Honduras is making 36 members of the Katrachos USAR [Urban Search and Rescue] available to provide assistance to our Mexican brothers and sisters,” the president announced. The next day, a contingent of 39 Honduran rescuers departed from Hernán Acosta Mejía Air Force Base in Tegucigalpa, headed for Mexico City. The delegation was made up of members of the Honduran Standing Committee on Contingencies (COPECO, per its Spanish acronym), Firefighter Corps, and Military Police, all specialists in providing assistance in these kinds of disasters. “Honduras is sending Mexico a highly trained, multidisciplinary team with vast experience; a team that is capable, agile, and self-sufficient in its work and in its stays abroad, given that the objective is to aid that nation and not represent any burden to it,” Lisandro Rosales, the national commissioner of COPECO, told Diálogo. “The group was ready to leave on the same day of the earthquake, with all of the logistics needed for the difficult but proud work of aiding our Mexican brothers and sisters.” The Honduran team took sensors, video cameras, and high-frequency microphones, to use them where there might be signs of survivors. They packed picks, shovels, saws, generators, and satellite phones, as well as first-aid supplies, field tents, water, and all of the provisions necessary for a one-week stay in Mexico, but ready to stay longer if the Mexican authorities needed them to. Urban rescuers “We’re going out for seven days, but the mission can be extended if Mexico considers it necessary,” General Jaime Omar Silva, the commander of the Firefighter Corps and the chief of the humanitarian brigade, told Diálogo. “The first 72 hours are golden for getting people out alive, and we’re going to assist them as much as we can.” Katrachos USAR personnel are certified to carry out search-and-rescue operations in collapsed structures and in confined spaces. This group includes engineers who are specialized in assessing structures, medical personnel, electronic search experts, and dangerous materials specialists, who regularly train together with homologous
partner nation fire brigades and military specialists during international
exercises such as CENTAM SMOKE. Members of the canine battalion complemented the team. It was their first time abroad for Taco, a German Shepherd, and Capitán, a Belgian Sheepdog, who were trained to detect buried persons. “The dogs can find people dead or alive,” an emotional Juan José Flores, of the Military Police, told Diálogo as he held one of the dogs by its leash. “Our hope, of course, is to find them in time.” “There are always pockets of life in these disasters,” Gustavo Bonilla, an officer in COPECO’s Urgent Rescue Unit and part of the team that Honduras sent to Haiti in 2010, stated. “We’re going to search those spaces between the rubble where someone still might be able to survive.” At the epicenter Once in Mexico, the Honduran contingent divided up to work simultaneously in Zacatepec and in Jojutla, in the state of Morelos. The latter is a town of approximately 57,000 residents to the south of Mexico City that suffered huge devastation due to being located some 12 kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake. They worked at the same time in both municipalities, under the direction of the local authorities. The teams managed to rescue three older adults alive and they recovered the body of a 25-year-old woman from among the rubble of what had been a market where local residents had told them there was no one. “In communities across the state, the aid given by the Honduran team was the first they had received in the hours following the earthquake,” Sergio Ramírez, the commander of the Morelos Fire Department, stated. “The canine teams were essential for ruling out the presence of victims in those places.” The Katrachos distributed packages of essential supplies and carried out damage assessments to determine the safety of the buildings and recommend whether they could be restored or needed to be demolished and rebuilt. The Honduran group was in Morelos when the heavy aftershocks hit on September 23rd. They were at the stadium and they had to evacuate. “But it was worth the effort. For us, it was worthwhile being there at the right time to help,” rescuer Gustavo Bonilla told Diálogo. The gratitude of the people of Morelos was immediate. They approached the Katrachos to give them gifts of cake, water, and fruit. “When we drove by in our cars, they shouted to us from the street: ‘Thanks, Honduras, we carry you in our heart!’” Bonilla recounted. Present and attentive “We had to show our solidarity,” Commissioner Rosales said near the end of the mission. “We’re left with the satisfaction of having come through for Mexico on the responsibility we had as Latin Americans”, he added, stressing the support the Aztec nation gave after Hurricane Mitch [October 1998] severely battered Honduras. Back in Mexico City, the Katrachos USAR had the opportunity to meet with Mexican Secretary of State Luis Videgaray, who went out to their camp to bid them farewell. “This has been—and is—an extraordinarily hard and very painful and very difficult moment for the Mexican people. The Honduran people are friends who made themselves present here immediately and effectively,” Secretary Videgaray said. “Many thanks to President Hernández, who has been present and looking out for us from the first moment. Thanks to this great team that is in Mexico today. We are very grateful. Thanks for bringing us your capacity, thanks for bringing us your experience, at difficult times like this; but above all, thanks for bringing us hope.”
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