After a week-long deployment to the Hurricane Dorian-ravaged Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, Mission resident Andy Krzus is glad to be home.
Krzus and his eight-year-old Belgian shepherd Nika were part of a 13-member urban search and rescue team made up of four dog handlers and nine Burnaby firefighters.
Scouring the wreckage left behind by a Category 5 hurricane was hard work, especially in the high heat and humidity, and the results were not always positive.
“We all hope for the positive results of the search, which means we find people that are still alive. However, going to disaster zones like that quite often will result in doing both, where you find people who have passed, and that’s something that we concentrated on quite a bit this time around,” Krzus said.
A former police officer with the Vancouver Police Department, Krzus is now the owner of Obedience Unleashed Dog Training Inc. and works out of the Mission/Maple Ridge location.
He has owned Nika since she was a puppy and trained her specifically for these situations.
Asked to describe the damage, Krzus said the area was a war zone, adding it looked like a bomb had been dropped on it.
“Absolutely, utterly destroyed. Trees cut in half, houses absolutely pancaked or completely missing.”
It was up to the dogs and their handlers to search through the debris, hoping to find survivors or at least locate the bodies.
Krzus said Nika has searched through collapsed buildings and heavy terrain all her life, but the building rubble still creates a field of safety hazards.
“It’s almost like someone takes the entire contents of a house, puts it in a blender and throws it in front of you and says, ‘Go across.’ That’s what it felt like when we went out there.”
While the dogs worked hard, all the handlers made sure they were kept safe.
“We worked them in shifts. They go in, do some searching and then we give them a break, give them water and put them in the shade.”
While some may consider this kind of work grim, Krzus said people in the area were happy to see them and appreciated their efforts.
“We all hope, when we get deployed, that we can go out there and spend our efforts on the positive aspects of helping out the community, whether we can find some people who are still alive or perhaps recover the ones who have passed. That alone allows the families to have some closure, and that is absolutely huge.”
That is a positive for Krzus, as was helping local dog rescues on the island that were collecting strays off the street.
It wasn’t just stray dogs that the team managed to locate.
“We did manage to find three missing Canadians.”
While they weren’t trapped under rubble, the trio had become displaced by the storm, and the team located them and assisted them to contact their families and the Canadian consulate.
“It was an uplifting moment for the team.”
Now home, Krzus said his experience as a police officer, and the support of the team, help him to cope with the devastation that he saw.
“It’s an unfortunate tragedy that happened and it’s going to take a long time for the people of the Bahamas to recover from it.”