“The natural disasters in Seyðisfjörður at the end of the year are the worst that I’ve been through a lot in my career. There were indescribable, life-threatening situations, where one feared for one’s own life and the lives of others, both the lives of the townspeople and the companies that were carrying out the rescue work. “
This is what Haraldur Geir Eðvaldsson, fire chief of the Fire Brigade in East Iceland, says, but he was in charge of organizing the rescue work in the east recently. He says it has been invaluable to get the support of professionals following the rescue work that the National Association of Firefighters and Ambulancemen offers its people.
The residents of Seyðifjörður were not spared from shocks at the end of the year 1999 when prolonged precipitation triggered mudslides on the south side of the fjord and thick loose strata moved down the slopes at an alarming speed towards the town that hides at the bottom of the fjord. The flood caused enormous property damage.
Haraldur says very mildly that everyone survived, but the property damage that both families and companies suffered must not be underestimated.
„ Many people lost everything and just stood up with what was in the pockets of their clothes. Our equipment will be very important when it no longer exists. Then there are the little personal differences that we miss the most. The small plate with the footprints of newborn children in the family, the photo album and other things that will not be added with money, “says Haraldur.
Haraldur says that his men in the Fire Brigade and others who worked on rescue work local, men from the police, the Red Cross and rescue teams, many have watched the big landslide rush down the hill and to the town.
“That feeling was miserable and for a long time I did not know if all my men had escaped. Members of the group watched their property disappear in the mud and we watched people run out of their houses. Suddenly I had a boy in my arms fleeing the landslide. We all had to get out of the area. There was nothing we could do. I remember sitting on the sidewalk with others from the fire department, calling our families to let them know we were alive. Cars with blue lights on the way from Egilsstaðir immediately give an indication that something big is happening. “
Haraldur says that it has taken some time to do a team survey and get reassurance that no one was missing. He describes how the firefighters from Seyðisfjörður received shelter in many places and therefore it took time to get in touch with them all following the events. It had been a strange feeling to come home to a safe shelter in Egilsstaðir and he had fallen asleep with a guilty conscience because of the friends who had lost their houses and all their belongings. The Christmas celebration following all this is like a fog.
“When you find yourself in a situation like this, it is as if all the old wounds on the soul from previous rescue operations open up,” says Haraldur.
He says that the National Association of Firefighters and Ambulancemen has taken up the innovation of offering trauma care to skilled specialists and it is invaluable.
“It is as if all the old incidents broke out after the shock we experienced in Seyðisfjörður at the end of the year. Of course, we have always talked to each other and tried to support each other after being strict, but more is needed. We are not made of steel and we need professional help as soon as possible after life-threatening and rescue operations of the magnitude we encountered, “says the fire chief.