An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 caused severe damage in Croatia not far from the town of Petrinja on 29 December 2020. The IRO member organisation Croatian Mountain Rescue Service (CMRS) successfully supported the search operation with a total of 14 dogs: Six people could be located under the rubble by the canines and thus rescued. Another ten dogs of the two IRO member organisations Croatian Rescue Dog Association (CRDA) and Club for Sports and Working Dogs Zagreb (KOSSP) were on site as backup.
When the search and rescue dog teams arrived on the scene just 80 minutes after the devastating quake, they were faced with a picture of devastation. Even for experienced rescue workers, it was a shocking scenario that got under their skin. Neven Putar, who coordinated the search operation on site, describes the extent of the devastation as follows: "It is hard to imagine that up until the earthquake there had been houses standing here."
The search for victims was extremely difficult as the ground shook continuously and buildings were in danger of collapsing. In order to ensure that the work of the search and rescue dogs can be carried out as safely as possible, teamwork is indispensable. A quick analysis of the situation and targeted coordination of the search teams is required. The search dog teams bear a great responsibility after such catastrophes, because the speed and agility with which the canines search the rubble cones is unique. And no technical device is able to surpass the performance of a dog's nose. The first buried victim was found just 90 minutes after the quake.
Dubravko Butala, a volunteer member of CMRS, is amazed by the dogs' skills: "Even in confusing situations like after earthquakes, they are able to pick up human scents and locate buried people with pinpoint accuracy," he explains. A few molecules are enough for a dog's fine nose to detect scents.
Saving human lives is the motivation for the teams to give their best and stay focused in every deployment. They are exposed to high emotional stress. However, the processing of the shock and sadness only takes place afterwards, alone or in conversations with colleagues.
In addition to searching for missing persons, CMRS members also cared for and comforted those standing traumatised in the shattered remains of their existence. Many people, especially the elderly, did not want to leave the ruins of their houses. With temperatures below zero degrees, it was bitterly cold at night. In addition, the electricity supply had failed and everything was pitch black outside.
We are proud of our search and rescue dog teams and grateful for their great commitment as well as the humanity with which they responded to the victims in this difficult situation.
Head of Operations: Neven Putar
Photos: Jure Miskovic / Cropix / CMRS
First picture: Kruno Stipetić with dog Draco
Second picture: Stjepan Gal with dog Adi
Third picture: Dubravko Butala with dog Tor
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