There are new reports of survivors from last week's deadly earthquake in Haiti -- thanks in part to efforts by the United States top canine search and rescue teams working in the devastated country.
The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) said late Monday that its teams helped rescue five people from the earthquake's ruins over the weekend.
On Sunday, five days after the 7.0 magnitude quake wreaked havoc in the tiny island nation, three SDF teams rescued a woman buried alive under a crumpled hotel in the capitol city of Port-au-Prince.
"The appreciation shown by locals for the Search Teams and their Task Force was overwhelming," said the SDF, which is receiving text messages and phone calls from its canine teams deployed to Haiti. "As soon as the woman was pulled from the wreckage, Haitians gathered in the street and began chanting, 'U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A...'"
SDF teams on Sunday also helped rescue three more women buried beneath the rubble of another collapsed building in Port-au-Prince, a city of 2 million that was leveled during last Tuesday's massive seismic tremor.
Search teams found two of the women -- sisters who are 19 and 20-years old -- when they called out for help. "But the third woman, a 31-year old, was deeper in the rubble," the SDF said.
Rescue teams used electronic listening devices, which signaled someone might be trapped under the rubble.
SDF dogs Cadillac, Maverick, and Hunter -- specially-trained to find people buried alive, like all the organization's canines -- were then called to the scene, and all expressed interest in the same area.
"During the rescue, Task Force members crawled into tight spaces to reach the area where the search dogs had shown interest and found the third woman still lying in bed," the SDF said. "She was pinned to her mattress by the ceiling of her bedroom, just inches from crushing her."
"When handler Jasmine Segura was able to get close enough, she could see the woman waving to her and heard her say, "Thank you," in English," the SDF added. Rescuers cut out the mattress and slid her to safety.
Three other SDF teams on Sunday also helped save a 50-year-old woman trapped under the wreckage of yet another crumpled building in Port-au-Prince. The teams helped extricate the woman, who was dehydrated and had slight injuries, the SDF said.
Those teams included Los Angeles County firefighters Ron Horetski and his Lab, Pearl, Gary Durian and his Golden Retriever, Baxter, and California civilian Ron Weckbacher and his border collie, Dawson.
The 72 members of the task force, who have 70,000 pounds of heavy machinery and other rescue equipment, are searching around the clock to find survivors of the cataclysmic earthquake that many fear will claim tens of thousands of lives.
"The teams are working long hours, stopping only long enough to let the dogs rest before starting to search again. Once they begin a search operation, they work until the effort is complete -- no matter how long it takes," the spokesperson added.
The organization said its teams have called and sent text messages describing the "desperate situation" in Haiti and the "awesome work" of their canine partners.
The SDF now has seven teams in Haiti and other teams on stand-by back in California. The teams, among the most highly-trained disaster search and rescue units in the country, are working with the California Task Force 1 and the Florida Task Force 1 in the rescue efforts.
"The teams are working in 12-hour shifts so they have time to rest and recuperate," said Captain Jayd Swendseid of the California Task Force. "(Thursday) the team put in a long and exhausting day. Roads are closed and there is a lot of debris that is making transportation difficult, but the team is managing to get to buildings and make rescues. Morale is good and supplies are sufficient so far."
The seven "live-scent" dogs on the teams are arguably the most valuable tools rescue workers have in a disaster of this magnitude. These elite canines can climb and run across the piles of concrete and other debris in the streets of Port-Au-Prince and determine within three minutes if there are survivors buried below, the SDF said.
"This moment is what SDF Search Teams train for, week in and week out, throughout their careers together," said SDF founder Wilma Melville. "When one SDF team succeeds, all of our teams succeed."
"Our thoughts are with our teams in Haiti, who continue to comb the rubble into the night," she added. "Their perseverance, skill, and strength in the face of challenges make us all proud, and give us hope."
Glimmers of hope
Some glimmers of hope appeared amidst the chaos and devastation over the weekend. A Red Cross convoy with a 50-bed hospital arrived in Port-au-Prince, and three health care teams that can provide much needed medical attention to 30,000 people also arrived in the ravaged city.
Truckloads of Red Cross supplies reached Port-Au-Prince, and thousands of emergency workers hit the streets to hand out water and provide first aid to earthquake victims. Many relief workers also helped search for survivors or transported people with serious injuries to nearby health facilities.
Rescue workers from around the world have now found more than 60 survivors, including five people pulled on Sunday from the wreckage of a Port-Au-Prince grocery store. It took 24 hours to free those people.
Another sign of hope came on Saturday when an Australian news team found a 16-month-old girl buried alive. But rescuers know the odds of finding any more survivors are slim. Those chances dwindle after 72 hours, according to disaster experts, and that deadline has long since passed.
The earthquake that struck Haiti at 4:53 pm on January 12 was centered about 14 miles west of Port-Au-Prince, but shockwaves were felt as far away as the Dominican Republic. Reports of catastrophic damage are widespread, with thousands of homes, schools, and other buildings destroyed from the seismic force.
Thousands of people have already died, with many already buried in mass graves, to prevent the spread of disease. Some Haitians have also burned the bodies of their loved ones, while others have stacked up bodies along the crowded streets. The smell of decaying bodies is said to be overwhelming.
According to CNN, people in Port-Au-Prince are now putting pieces of orange peel inside their noses to cover the smell of corpses piled along the streets. There are also reports of looting and violence in Port-Au-Prince, as survivors search for food, water, and shelter.
U.S. officials said relief efforts will now turn toward long-term recovery and reconstruction. Meanwhile, the SDF said it would continue its efforts, doing its best to find survivors under the ruins. The SDF will provide updates on its Web site.
"Our hearts go out to our neighbors in Haiti, and we're honored to be able to help find survivors of this terrible tragedy," SDF's Executive Director Debra Tosch said. "This is the day that our teams have trained for. When the unthinkable happens, SDF Teams stand ready to respond, bringing hope and comfort to victims and their loved ones."
About the SDF
The SDF is the only organization in the country that works exclusively with rescued dogs and trains them to rescue people buried alive. Most of SDFs 69 canine search teams are certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That is the highest achievement for search and rescue teams and means they can respond to any disaster.
SDF teams spend about one year training for the FEMA test. To pass the rigorous exam, the dogs must search two piles of rubble and find four to six victims. The dogs have 20 minutes to complete their mission, and the testers do all they can to distract the canines. They may, for example, put food, live chickens, or even cats in the piles. The dogs fail if they become distracted during the test.
The SDF, headquartered in Ojai, California, does not accept any government funding to cover the estimated $10,000 needed to train each team and provide lifetime care for the dogs. Those costs are covered by individual and corporate donations.
Meanwhile, other relief and humanitarian organizations have emergency workers in Haiti trying to get desperately needed water, food, and other supplies to survivors. Those groups include UNICEF, Mercy Corps, and The American Red Cross .
"America's support -- donations made in the United States to the American Red Cross -- is reaching the hands of survivors in Haiti," said Steve McAndrew, disaster relief specialist with the American Red Cross in Port-au-Prince.
The American Red Cross now has teams from more than 30 countries that are providing food, water, and help with field hospitals, emotional support, and sanitation services.
Americans can support these relief efforts by texting "HAITI" to "90999" and $10 will be automatically donated to the Red Cross. The fee will be charged to consumers' cell phone bills.
The U.S. State Department said Americans looking for loved ones in Haiti should contact its Operation Center at 1-888-407-4747.
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