Merseyside firefighters leading Morocco response after devastating earthquake

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Staff from Merseyside are at the heart of the British response to the devastation in North Africa.

Merseyside has a key presence in the search and rescue efforts in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that has killed thousands in Morocco.

A 6.8 Richter earthquake struck below villages in the High Atlas mountains south of Marrakesh on Friday in what has been described as the North African country’s deadliest quake in 60 years. It is feared around 2,500 people have been killed as a result with the death toll expected to rise.

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The Moroccan government has accepted aid from four countries so far, Spain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the UK. At the heart of the British response are 62 personnel from the fire and rescue service, half a dozen of whom are based in Merseyside.

Phil Garrigan, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service chief officer, explained the region’s major role in disaster support. He said: “Merseyside co-ordinates any operational incidents nationally when they are of such a significance that the host fire and rescue service is overwhelmed.

“We also go overseas as well, so part of that is coordinating the response of the UK’s search and rescue teams. On the basis of that, the Foreign Office contact the country involved – in this case Morocco – offering some support.

“In this case, the UK Government has been asked for support under a bilateral agreement and then they’ve come to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and the UK international search and rescue teams to look at deploying.”

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Moroccan rescuers supported by newly-arrived foreign teams face an intensifying race against time to dig out any survivors from the rubble of mountain villages, on the third day after the country’s strongest-ever earthquake. Image: FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)Moroccan rescuers supported by newly-arrived foreign teams face an intensifying race against time to dig out any survivors from the rubble of mountain villages, on the third day after the country’s strongest-ever earthquake. Image: FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)
Moroccan rescuers supported by newly-arrived foreign teams face an intensifying race against time to dig out any survivors from the rubble of mountain villages, on the third day after the country’s strongest-ever earthquake. Image: FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

A total of 62 people have been deployed, predominantly made up of firefighters as well as two doctors and three paramedics as part of the team. Among them from Merseyside is dog handler Niamh Darcy and rescue dog Vesper.

For some of the team, this isn’t their first trip overseas to support aid already this year. Chief Garrigan added: “A number of the team were deployed to Turkey as well, so their task is to get into country, set up a base of operations and from there work with the Moroccan emergency services to provide a response.

“They’ll be directed into parts of the country that haven’t necessarily had any provision yet or any search and rescue capabilities deployed there and they’ll work in those areas to support the community and rescue individuals if they can. They’ll do what they can during the response phase into the recovery phase at which point they’ll come back into country, be debriefed and into their respective services.”

The chief officer said the six-strong team from Merseyside were “exceptional members of staff and they’ll do a fantastic job for them.” He added how the officers are trained regularly to ensure they can be ready for major operations at a moment’s notice.

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He said: “We do an extensive amount of training to make sure we’re ready for these things. We’ve been out three times in the last three months – to Malawi in response to the floods, Turkey and now in Morocco – so that in itself ensures the skills are maintained and the competencies are ensured.”

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