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Turkey earthquake: ‘Fear, grief, terror and desperation was palpable’ says Addenbrooke’s nurse  

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An Addenbrooke’s emergency department nurse deployed to Turkey with the UK International Search and Rescue team (UKISAR) has told of their mission to save lives in the earthquake zone – and the terror of after-shocks.

Royal College of Emergency Medicine advanced clinical practitioner in ED, Deborah Swann, returned making a plea for the British public to donate to reputable causes, highlighting a desperate need for shelter in freezing conditions.

To the rescue – another building collapses

The devastation means there is an urgent need for tents and toilets.

As she did so, news broke on Monday night of another earthquake where she worked – killing at least six people and sparking another search for people trapped under rubble.

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Deborah works with firefighters in the wreckage

Deborah works with firefighters in the wreckage

Deborah, who was in the worst hit region – Hatay province and Antakya city – said: “We train hard in immersive exercises replicating real-life disasters, but nothing prepared for the sight of devastation that greeted us.

“The fear, grief, terror, and desperation of the people of Hatay was palpable.

Deborah (right) treats a patient in the confined conditions of a collapsed building.

Deborah (right) treats a patient in the confined conditions of a collapsed building.

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“I was in a collapsed building helping to free a man, trapped under a ceiling and pinned under his dead father, when a huge aftershock struck. I have never felt fear like it.

“We also had to run for our lives when there was a stampede of hundreds of people – a primeval fear.

UKISAR, funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, deployed at short notice 77 personnel from all over the UK, including firefighters, a vet, structural engineer, and four search dogs.

To the rescue – another building collapses

To the rescue – another building collapses

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It cannot mobilise without a UKISAR Medical Team, which on this occasion consisted of four NHS doctors and paramedics, and Deborah as the only highly specialised nurse.

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They are on 24/7 call with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office paying their deployment, locum, and NHS backfill costs – which is similar to the way it works with the military reserves.

Deborah and colleagues flew by chartered plane on 7 February and immediately set about their task to search, rescue, and treat casualties. The team, which had to be ready within six hours, was self-sufficient, camped in a local football stadium, and survived on ration packs.

The highlight was rescuing eight survivors, and their search dogs helped other teams to locate three more. However, there were low moments for the group, which proactively searched wrecked buildings, rather than waiting for survivors to be brought out.

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Back home – Deborah Swann

Back home – Deborah Swann

Deborah explained: The air was thick with concrete dust and smoke, and after a few days, decomposition. The atmosphere was panicked, noisy, and frenetic for the first five days and nights.

“The worst part is the utter despair.

“Not one building in Antakya was unaffected, and the people there are sleeping in the street for fear of further building collapse. Temperatures have been dropping to minus five at night and they desperately need tents and toilets.”

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Deborah joined UKISAR with the support of her ED colleagues ten years ago. It followed a gruelling selection process that recognised skills that push the boundaries of what people think a nurse is.

In addition to being a RCEM credentialed advanced clinical practitioner in ED, she undertakes pre-hospital emergency medicine in Birmingham, is qualified in confined space work, working at height, in water rescue, and expedition medicine.

She said: I was moved by the generosity of the people of Antakya and Hatay province. Despite losing everything, they offered us tea, food, and to share fires they were sitting by. They were so grateful and shared their stories with us too.

Anyone who wants to assist in Turkey or Syria can find more details on the Disaster Emergency Committee website at https://www.dec.org.uk/appeal/turkey-syria-earthquake-appeal.

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