‘Hardest mission ever!’ Polish search and rescue team head to Turkey as earthquake death toll mounts

A 76-strong team has set off to help in the rescue effort following the massive earthquake that hit the country on Monday morning as the teams head says: “The mission... will be one of the hardest we've been on so far." PAP/ KM PSP w Gdańsku/ KW PSP Kraków/ Twitter

The Polish search and rescue team being sent to Turkey to help in the rescue effort following the massive earthquake that hit the country on Monday morning will be on one of its “hardest” ever missions.

Thousands are feared dead after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria in the early hours of Monday.

The death toll had already soared to at least 1,500 by Monday afternoon.

As news of the quake broke, Poland said it would send a 76-strong team to Turkey.

PAP/Abaca

PAP/Abaca

Thousands are feared dead after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria in the early hours of Monday.PAP/Abaca

"The mission... will be one of the hardest we've been on so far," the team's head, Grzegorz Borowiec, told PAP.

Borowiec said the operation will last seven days, the maximum time given to search and rescue missions.

He added one of the biggest challenges will be low temperatures, especially at night, which will decrease the survival chances of people trapped under rubble and debris.

Poland's HUSAR search and rescue team of 76 firefighters and eight rescue dogs are accompanied by five members of the Humanitarian and Medical Assistance Team.

KW PSP Kraków/Twitter

KM PSP Gdańsk

Rescue team leader Grzegorz Borowiec said the operation will last seven days, the maximum time given to search and rescue missions.KW PSP Kraków/Twitter

Deputy interior minister, Maciej Wąsik told a press conference that the goal of the mission was to save the lives of people trapped under the rubble.

He also praised the very good and fast organisation of the Polish mission, adding that the Polish rescuers are "independent and self-sufficient" and have taken to Turkey their own resources including heavy equipment, tents, camp beds and food.

Chief commander of the State Fire Service, Brigadier General Andrzej Bartkowiak said that the reaction of the Polish team was extremely quick.

PAP/Abaca

PAP/Abaca

Borowiec added one of the biggest challenges will be low temperatures, especially at night, which will decrease the survival chances of people trapped under rubble and debris.PAP/Abaca

"Six hours is a record. We have probably never been able to organise and fly out so quickly, because we know how much help they need there," he said.

Bartkowiak also said that HUSAR is one of the best search and rescue groups in the world. He added that they will land at Gaziantep airport in southern Turkey "as close as possible to the epicentre of the disaster," as one of a few "heavy groups that have signed up.”

Earlier, Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński posted on Twitter: “Following the earthquake in Turkey and the appeal for assistance from Turkish authorities, I proposed to send a search and rescue team of the Polish State Fire Service, called HUSSAR, consisting of 76 firefighters and 8 rescue dogs.”

Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “Turkey can count on Poland at this difficult time.”Mateusz Morawiecki/Twitter

Prime Minister wrote: “This morning I received news of the tragic earthquake in southern Turkey. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.

“Turkey can count on Poland at this difficult time.

“Rescuers from the Polish Fire Service's HUSSAR team are ready to help anytime.”