Strong earthquake in Croatia

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 Hrvatska gorska služba spašavanja (HGSS) 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 Hrvatska Udruga za Obuku Potražnih Pasa (HUOPP) and Klub za Obuku Sportskih I Službenih Pasa 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 HGSS, 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, HGSS 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.

Photos: HGSS