Randy Journigan pulled his worn baseball cap from his head, rattling off a list of natural disasters he had inscribed inside: Hurricane Dorian, Irene, Jouqian, Maria, Harvey.
Journigan’s been on Virginia Task Force 2 — the Virginia Beach-based urban search and rescue team — for 11 years and assisted in his fair share of rescue operations.
But of all the disasters he’s experienced and penned into his hat, the Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside, Fla. was “far worse” than anything Journigan has seen before.
“We worked day and night,” Journigan said. “Our goal was we were going to work as fast as we can, as hard as we can, until everybody was brought home to their families.”
Journigan was one of more than 80 members on the Virginia Task Force 2 sent to assist in search and rescue operations at the site of the Surfside Condo Collapse last month.
Children, spouses and friends bearing balloons and handmade signs welcomed the task force home on Tuesday at the Harry E. Diezel Fire Training Center. The crews returned to Hampton Roads after two weeks of 12-hour shifts in Surfside, Fla.
After many “short nights and long days,” James Ingledue said the crew members are feeling “a little worn” and very happy to be home.
Ingledue, the deputy task force leader, likened the operations in Florida to his experiences in the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2009 Haiti earthquake.
“I’ve been to multiple hurricanes — that’s a situation that’s spread out, over a wide area,” Ingledue said. “This is one spot, one building, with just days and days and days of work in the same place — very much like the Pentagon and similar to Haiti.”
During their time in Florida, the team recovered 25 victims and assisted in about 35 other recoveries. A confirmed 94 people have died in the collapse, and 22 are still missing.
Days into the team’s careful search for survivors amid the building rubble, their mission shifted from search and rescue to recovery. Despite the somber change, Journigan said crews worked with the same urgency they had before — now with the mission of providing closure for the families.
“It may be unfortunate that we couldn’t do anything to help save the people who were actually in the building, but for every one of those people, there were tens or hundreds of people that loved them,” Ingledue said. “So our work then just basically shifted from making a rescue of somebody in the building, now we’re doing a rescue, sort of, for their family and their loved ones.”
Ali Sullivan, firstname.lastname@example.org