Los Angeles search-and-rescue teams return from Turkey after devastating earthquake

A man wearing headphones and holding a yellow helmet sits in a nest of rubble.
Matt Arledge, center, of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s urban search-and-rescue team, uses a hyper-sensitive microphone to listen for signs of life in Adiyaman, Turkey, on Feb. 10.
(Tom Nicholson / For The Times)

Search-and-rescue workers from Los Angeles have returned from Turkey after spending weeks assisting in the aftermath of the region’s massive earthquake, which killed tens of thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

More than 80 Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel were dispatched Feb. 6 as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, which included a search-and-rescue squad from Fairfax, Va., after the magnitude 7.8 quake that devastated Turkey and northern Syria that day.

The L.A. County and Virginia crews are the only such teams in the country that qualify under the USAID program to assist in international disaster response.


“DART led the effort to search for survivors in Adiyaman [Turkey] and surrounding areas by using sensitive cameras, listening devices, search-and-rescue canines, and other specialized equipment,” the Los Angeles County Fire Department said in a news release Tuesday announcing the team’s return.

Mervan Ergun lost 14 family members, including his mother, two sisters and a brother, in the massive earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6.

Feb. 22, 2023

The crew assessed more than 6,000 buildings, including hospitals and homes, surveying dozens of structures a day to determine whether they were safe for residents to move back inside.

“It’s a major psychological challenge,” Joshua Svensson, a civil engineer with the L.A. County Department of Public Works who was dispatched to the region, recently told The Times. “It’s a heavy responsibility, but we will go to these houses and say, ‘I would sleep here.’ Offering people that peace of mind is a big deal.”

They also performed hours of tunneling work at buildings where they detected signs of life and consulted with local personnel on rescue attempts.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department also deployed seven members of its search-and-rescue program, who arrived in Turkey on Feb. 10, according to a news release.


They worked mainly in Antakya in Hatay province, one of the regions hit hardest by the quake, which has killed more than 47,000 people in the two countries. The workers returned to the U.S. on Feb. 15.

Mike Leum, assistant director for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, has been a search-and-rescue reserve deputy for 30 years.

“It was a week of triumph and tragedy,” Leum said. The team, he said, rescued three people: a 52-year-old mother and her 18-year-old son, as well as a 17-year-old boy. “There were deceased people, but having three live finds were worth it,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department search-and-rescue team worked with about 150 other personnel from Turkey and other countries, Leum said.