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Virginia Task Force arrives in Turkey as death toll passes 11,000

The Fairfax County based team will join rescue efforts after a catastrophic 7.8 magnitude earthquake

GAZIANTEP, Türkiye — Members of Virginia Task Force 1, based in Fairfax County,  touched down in Turkey Wednesday following a massive deadly earthquake there. They will join rescue teams to search for survivors. 

Rescue teams toiled through the night in Turkey and Syria, searching for signs of life in the rubble of thousands of buildings toppled by the catastrophic earthquake. The death toll rose Wednesday to more than 11,000 in the deadliest quake worldwide in more than a decade.

The United States Agency for International Development's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance made the determination to deploy the elite team from Fairfax County. They are one of only two teams across the country to be deployed outside of the United States.

They departed from Chantilly, Virginia, late Monday night. The team consists of 79 team members ranging from first responders and doctors to engineers and specialists, along with six search and rescue dogs.

“We train very well and we train often for it," said K9 Search Specialist Paul Serzan. 

This is his dog Vader's first mission. He told WUSA9 Vader has been training for the past two years. 

"To be comfortable on a rubble pile, being comfortable in loud situations, being comfortable to go on to the rubble pile and search and bark when he finds somebody," Serzan told WUSA9 before leaving. 

Dean Tills, a structures specialist, said the team hopes to bring some comfort to the people who have had their lives turned upside down. "In a split second their lives have changed and we’re there to hopefully bring them hope," Tills said.

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