On April 19, 1995, around 9:03 a.m., just after parents dropped their children off at day care at the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, the worst act of domestic terrorism that this country has ever witnessed to date occurred. A massive bomb inside a rental truck exploded, blowing half of the nine-story building into oblivion.
Stunned Americans watched as the bodies of men, women, and children were pulled from the rubble for nearly two weeks. When the smoke cleared and the exhausted and emotionally devastated rescue workers packed up their gear and left, 168 people were dead in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil to date.
FEMA deployed eleven Urban Search and Rescue Teams consisting of more than 600 Task Force and Incident Support Team personnel. The rescue and recovery operations continued for 14 days. The eleven teams came from across the country; Phoenix, AZ, Virginia Beach, VA, New York, NY, Montgomery County, MD, Fairfax County, VA, Miami-Dade County, FL, Puget Sound, WA, and Sacramento, Orange County, Menlo Park and Los Angeles County, CA.
DART sent 10 of its members to Oklahoma City with CaTF-3.
At that point in history, the response to the bombing was the longest continuous Urban Search and Rescue operation in the history of FEMA. There were 26 operational periods of 12 hours each (In contrast the Northridge earthquake required only 3 operational periods of 12 hours each.)
The Urban Search and Rescue teams recovered 165 victims (There were 168 victims total, 3 were recovered following demolition).
Chief Robert J. Dolci wrote the following poem on the sixth day of CaTF-3's ten-day mission to Oklahoma City. It provides an emotional picture of what the team was faced with.
At first it was hope that gave us the energy to dig through the rubble.
Rubble three stories high.
Hope fueled by anger pushed us beyond exhaustion.
We found one, then another, and another, life long since gone.
Our anger masked the horror in our mind and the ache in our hearts.
Who would find the children?
Would it be us?
We hoped so, we hoped not.
The children would bring the tears.
The tears that we tell each other it's okay to shed; a tear or two that we may shed at night.
The real tears that we must control for fear that we will not be able to do our job.
Some say we are brave; others call us heroes.
We feel neither.
When we work the rubble or work the upper floors on ropes to remove the widow makers we feel no fear.
At least not personal fear for ourselves, just fear of failure.
There's a strange darkness in our mind that controls the fear.
We're trained to save lives. We will willingly risk our life to do so.
As the days pass we lose hope.
Reality tells us that there are no lives left to save.
All we can do now is provide comfort for the family and friends of the victims.
It is good that we do this.
But, it does not provide hope.
Some of us welcome the exhaustion.
Exhaustion controls the emotions; it surrounds it like the blackness that fills our dreamless nights.
The dreams will come.
Maybe when we are back home.
We hope not until then.
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